When one imagines a medical malpractice lawsuit, typically the scenario that comes to mind is clumsy surgery gone wrong. However, the reality of medical malpractice is that, in most cases, it occurs much earlier.
Much research on the field of malpractice has come out of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine with hopes to curb the nearly $3.6 billion dollars a year spent on these suits, with misdiagnoses being the most easily preventable type of malpractice. A recent study by Dr. David Newman-Toker found that late or incorrect diagnoses accounted for approximately 35% of all medical malpractice suits.
Some diseases are more prone to misdiagnosis. It is estimated by the Journal of Clinical Oncology that some cancers have a misdiagnosis rate of 44%. A study by Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co. found that nearly 1 in 5 Alzheimer's patients are wrongfully diagnosed with Alzeimher's when the condition is not present.
Medical misdiagnosis lawsuits do not always stem from missing a condition or a late discovery. As an example, in the case of Mr. Strout, the misdiagnosis was traumatizing but, ultimately, the worst part of his health concerns. When Strout visited his doctor, he was told he had pancreatic cancer. The diagnosis described it as extremely aggressive and Strout was told he had months to live. However, when the tests returned, the diagnosis was wrong and Strout actually had Hodgkin-lymphoma, which is much more easily treatable. Strout sued and was awarded $200,000 in his medical malpractice suit for his "tremendous emotional distress".
Studies of ICU units have reported incidences of misdiagnoses at anywhere from 20-40%. Here are some important steps to take to avoid and/or survive a misdiagnosis:
1.) Speak with a doctor – Nurses, physician assistants, and a spectrum of other medical professionals can be liable for medical malpractice. So when something is bothering you, it is best to get a diagnosis from a licensed doctor before dismissing it. A Pennsylvania woman was examined by a physician's assistant for sinus issues, to which a steroid treatment was suggested. This treatment, without antibiotics, led to a life threatening brain abscess and a $3 million dollar medical malpractice award.
2.) Be prepared – You only have so much time in the examination room, so prepare your questions, tally your symptoms as you experience them, and detail your medical history including medications and previous medical treatments. Your physician is a doctor, not a psychic.
3.) Find a second opinion – Do not feel shy about addressing your health concerns with another medical professional. Not only could you avoid a costly and dangerous misdiagnosis but, more often, it can give you the chance to get more answers and a more detailed understanding of your ailments.
4.) Contact an experienced malpractice attorney. Due to the complicated and expensive nature of medical malpractice litigation, the majority (93%) are settled out of court. Settlement agreements can be detailed and have long-lasting implications, and you will want an attorney to ensure each harm you have or will have suffered is addressed.