As patients, we rely on medical professionals to accurately assess what’s wrong. We expect a timely and accurate diagnosis — and rightly so. The correct diagnosis is the foundation of an effective treatment plan. Medical professionals and institutions are supposed to be equipped with the right training, expertise and tools to get to the root of the problem.

Misdiagnosis, it turns out, is far more common than many people realize. According to one recent study, it was a factor in more than one-third of medical negligence claims where the patient suffered serious or fatal effects. Overall, diagnosis errors amounted to nearly 30 percent of payouts in malpractice claims.

The most common misdiagnoses

Three conditions make up nearly 75 percent of misdiagnosis cases:

  • Cancer
  • Infection
  • Heart attack/stroke

In hospitals and emergency rooms, infections, heart attacks and strokes are most likely to get missed. Cancers often go undiagnosed in clinics and other outpatient settings.

How it happens

There isn’t an easy answer to solving the misdiagnosis problem. In emergency rooms, overcrowding and understaffing are contributing factors. Patients often get sent home after a cursory examination — only to suffer life-threatening or fatal cardiovascular events after discharge.

When it comes to cancer misdiagnoses, even more complex factors are at play. Outpatient clinics may not have the proper tools or specialists to identify rarer diagnoses. Mistakes in interpreting test results can lead to confusion. And because time is such a critical factor in treating cancer, delays can be catastrophic.

Holding providers and institutions accountable

Victims of medical negligence — including diagnostic errors — deserve justice. The legal system plays a critical role in holding providers accountable. Medical malpractice claims have a powerful impact by compensating victims and spurring measures to reduce the risk of preventable errors in the first place.