More than 15,000 lawsuits are filed against doctors in the United States each year for medical malpractice, a claim that medical treatment caused injury or death to the patient, typically involving a medical error.
Medical errors clearly have negative consequences for patients. At the same time, the cost of processing these law suits and the insurance that health providers purchase to protect against such suits drive up the cost of health care in our country. Collecting new evidence on this topic is important. The more we know about these claims, the better our health care system can manage medical errors and reduce costs.
A sweeping study, published in the British Medic al Journal, found that errors in diagnosis are “the most common, most costly and most dangerous of medical mistakes” in the U.S. The study used data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, which records when state licensing agencies take action against health care providers.
The authors analyzed more than 350,000 paid claims in medical malpractice suits in the U.S. from 1985 to 2010. More than 28 percent of claims paid were due to diagnostic errors. These errors also accounted for the highest proportion of total payments, at more than 35 percent, and resulted in death more often than other types of mistakes. The second and third most common errors were related to treatment and surgery. But the authors found the real take-home message was in addressing diagnostic errors.
According to the authors: “We found roughly equal numbers of lethal and non-lethal errors in our analysis, suggesting that the public health burden of diagnostic errors could be twice that previously estimated,”. They suggest that ” Health care stakeholders should consider diagnostic safety a critical health policy issue.”
The study is important because it reveals new information about medical malpractice claims in the U.S. Collecting new evidence like this is critical in making changes to our health care system that can improve quality of care and reduce health care costs.