Institute of Medicine: Delayed and missed diagnoses are frequent and harmful

A new study reveals just how prevalent and dangerous inaccurate diagnoses are in America

It is notoriously difficult to get accurate information about the number of medical mistakes that harm patients. Hospitals and doctors are reluctant to disclose their errors. Medical professionals are often wary of "calling out" their colleagues. Subsequently, many mistakes remain unreported and the full extent of the problem remains clouded.

Especially hard to quantify is the number of missed or late diagnoses. "The data on diagnostic errors are sparse, few reliable measures exist and often the error is identified only in retrospect," John R. Ball, executive vice president emeritus of the American College of Physicians, said in a report published on September 22, 2015.

But medical mistakes remain a leading cause of injury and death in the United States. While we've all heard of egregious errors such as operating on the wrong limb, leaving surgical sponges inside of patients, and other horrors, a more subtle - but equally damaging - medical error is occurring with far more frequency.

According to the Institute of Medicine, on average every single patient in the U.S. will receive a delayed or missed diagnosis in their lifetime. The study, authored by John R. Ball and other doctors, noted that getting the right diagnosis at the right time is absolutely critical to obtaining a good health outcome. If diagnostic errors occur, it can lead to inappropriate or unnecessary treatment. It can also let an undiagnosed illness, including cancer, develop until it is untreatable.

No improvement expected

Even worse, perhaps, is that delayed and missed diagnosis are only expected to become more frequent. According to the committee which authored the study, missed and late diagnoses "will likely worsen as the delivery of health care and the diagnostic process continue to increase in complexity," leading to more frequent errors.

The authors did note that improved communication can improve diagnostic errors, as can calling attention to the issue and focusing on prevention. The report says that communication between health providers, including doctors, nurses, specialists, and lab workers can often avoid a missed diagnosis.

Did you receive a delayed or missed diagnosis?

Because delayed and missed diagnosis are often only confirmed after an illness or medical condition has worsened, if you suffered from a diagnostic error you may have suffered significant health and financial consequences.

At Soloff & Zervanos, our attorneys help injured patients and their families in the wake of medical error. If you suffered from medical malpractice, including a diagnostic error, contact our firm to discuss your legal options, financial recovery and next steps.