Most people in Illinois trust the advice and judgment of their doctors. Unfortunately, when doctors make diagnostic mistakes, those errors can delay timely treatment and increase the risk of adverse outcomes. In 2013, US News reported misdiagnoses were the leading ground for malpractice lawsuits. Recent research indicates this may be because incorrect diagnoses are the most common of all types of medical malpractices.
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A prevalent problem
The diagnostic process is complex and depends closely on the knowledge and interpretation of the treating physician. This introduces a high risk of errors. In 2013, Kaiser Health News reported the following statistics on misdiagnoses:
- Diagnoses are delayed, incorrect or completely missed in 10 to 20 percent of cases.
- In a study from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, more than one-quarter of 583 diagnostic mistakes reported by doctors resulted in permanent disability or death.
- More than 40,000 deaths occur annually due to diagnostic errors, according to a study published in BMJ Quality & Safety.
- Over 87 percent of errors made at a Texas VA Hospital could have caused significant to serious harm, according to another recent study. Surprisingly, even common conditions such as pneumonia were frequently misdiagnosed.
While some medical mistakes can be eliminated through simple procedural changes, misdiagnoses are more difficult to address. Many doctors are not even aware they have made flawed diagnoses, since patients often seek a second opinion and fail to follow up with the first doctor afterward. Despite a growing awareness of the frequency of misdiagnoses, many patients may still be harmed by these mistakes.
Recourse for preventable mistakes
In some cases, an incorrect diagnosis may be the best diagnosis the doctor could have made based on the information available at the time. Sometimes, though, doctors make mistakes that other professionals would not have made if they were given the same information. These medical mistakes may provide grounds for a malpractice lawsuit.
Victims of misdiagnoses may seek compensation for the physical or emotional harm resulting from the diagnosis. To win compensation, victims must prove that they suffered an injury directly due to a doctor’s substandard care. Usually, an expert witness must testify on behalf of the victim to establish whether the care was substandard.
In Illinois, the statute of limitations for malpractice lawsuits is 2 years from the date of injury for adult victims. For people injured before age 18, the statute of limitations is the earlier of two dates: the day the victim turns 22 or 8 years after the date of injury. In light of these relatively short timeframes, people who have sustained harm due to misdiagnoses should consider speaking to an attorney soon after the error becomes apparent.