The damaging effects of diagnostic errors in New Jersey

Diagnostic mistakes are costly errors that are unfortunately all too common in New Jersey and across the country. According to the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, one out of every 10 diagnoses given to patients is wrong. Further, a diagnostic error is responsible for as many as 80,000 fatalities on an annual basis, the organization states.

There are several ways that a mistake can manifest during the diagnostic portion of an illness, and those include the following: 

  •        A physician could misidentify the condition as something else.
  •        A physician could make a mistake that leads to a delay in the diagnosis, such as reading test results incorrectly.
  •        A physician could completely miss the condition, failing to diagnose the problem.

As the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality points out, medical staff often do not even know that they have committed a medical mistake related to a diagnosis. Patients may transfer to another provider or not even realize that the person who saw them originally made a mistake.

When an error in diagnosis takes place, a patient could suffer in a number of ways. Primarily, the underlying condition is never treated. This often happens when a doctor assumes that the presenting symptoms are tied to another condition. For example, believing that a patient’s headaches stem from migraines may lead to a painkiller prescription, which would not address a brain tumor that is actually causing the discomfort.

In some situations, patients are medicated for problems they do not have. Other times, patients do not receive the care they need in a timely fashion. Cancer, for example, is most treatable in its early stages. A delayed diagnosis in this area can be fatal.

The AHRQ points out that preventing the problem will involve better follow-up with patients as well as teaching doctors about how their unintentional biases could affect a diagnosis. When such an error does occur, patients should hold the negligent party accountable.

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