A recent study by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), which examined claims of medical malpractice caused by primary care physicians in the US, the UK, Australia, France and Canada, found that missed diagnosis of heart disease and cancer were the most common causes of medical malpractice in all five countries, ranging from 26% to 63% of total cases, depending on the country being studied.
Irish researchers, who reviewed more than 7,150 studies of medical malpractice claims, examined cases involving primary care physicians because, according to one of the study’s principal researchers, primary care physicians very often are the first line of contact with a healthcare professional for most people who “present with a medical problem of concern to them.”
According to the study findings, death was the most common outcome when missed diagnosis was the cause of the malpractice. Again, depending on country, medical malpractice resulted in patient death in approximately 15-to-42 percent of the cases.
In terms of numerical incidence, the most common causes of medical malpractice after missed diagnosis of heart disease and cancer, were the missed diagnosis of appendicitis, ectopic pregnancy and bone fractures. The most often missed diagnoses in children were related to meningitis and various forms of cancer.
Next in line in terms of numbers of malpractice incidence were drug errors, which were seen in between 6%-to-20% percent of the claims examined by the researchers. Among the most common cause of drug error, depending on country, were improper steroid preparations. Use of antibiotics, anticoagulants, antidepressants and antipsychotics also were cited relatively frequently in medical malpractice claims in some of the five countries looked at in the study.
The report also examined outcomes of legal claims made by patients who sued their primary care physician for making preventable mistakes that caused injury, or death, to the patient. According to the study, only one third of U.S. claims examined by the researchers resulted in compensation for damages being paid to the victim. About half of U.K. claims resulted in the patient, or the patient’s family, receiving a payout resulting from a settlement, or jury verdict, in the case.
Efforts To Reduce The Incidence of Malpractice
Researchers found that in recent years top U.S. medical societies have invested tens-of-millions of dollars in the development of public service awareness campaigns designed to empower patients to question their doctors, particularly in situations involving what patients believe to be unnecessary tests and treatments prescribed by their primary care provider.
“Our study shows that only a tiny fraction of people who go to a primary care doctor experiencing health concerns actually have a serious medical illness,” one research team leader said.
“To protect themselves from becoming a victim of medical malpractice,” Jay Dankner, managing partner of the top New York medical malpractice law firm of Dankner Milstein, P.C., said, “patients must be attentive and persistent about their care. For example, a woman may go to a doctor with a lump in her breast. But the doctor who examines her may say it doesn’t have the initial signs of malignancy and tell the patient the lump is benign. The doctor may then recommend simply keeping an eye on it, and see if it doesn’t go away on it’s own. Some patients may take that news and let it go for a year or more only to discover they have cancer.”
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