Missed Diagnoses and Drug Errors are Main Causes of Malpractice Suits

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The majority primary care physicians are sued generally for drug errors and missed diagnoses, researchers at Trinity College Dublin and Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Medical School stated in BMJ Open. Nearly all of the missed diagnosed cases involved meningitis, cancer and heart attack.

The authors, T. Fahey, S. M. Smith, E. Wallace, and J. Lowry stated that few studies have been made on proceedings at the primary care level, which is shocking, given that the majority of patient visits are along with their general practitioner (primary care doctor).

The team collected and studied data from published research regarding the number of medical malpractice suits at the primary care level in April 2012 and January 2013 as well. Moreover, they desired to determine what causes the claims.

After browsing 7,152 studies, they chose 34 which were qualified for their study. Fifteen of the studies were conducted in the US, nine in the United Kingdom, 7 in Australia, 2 in France, and 1 in Canada.

car accident injury
Head injury caused by car accident.

The researchers discovered that:

7.8 percent of suits in April 2012 and 16 percent in January 2013 were primary care doctors. There was a 20 percent general increase in suits in the United Kingdom from 2009 to 2010, and suits against GPs (general practitioners) comprised the greatest percentage of the increase.

Between 1994 and 1999, suits against UK general practitioners more than doubled. In Australia, primary care (general practice) comprised the highest percentage of suits for 2009 and 2010 based on the files of Medical Indemnity National Collection.

In general, in the countries surveyed, missed diagnoses comprised between 26 and 63 percent of all medical malpractice claims.

The most widespread result of supposed malpractice was death, ranging from 15 to 48 percent of all lawsuits brought for missed diagnoses. In the lawsuit brought, the most frequently missed diagnosed cases were associated to cancer and heart attack among adults.

There were numerous claims that allege missed diagnoses such as ectopic pregnancy, fractures, and appendicitis. Among pediatric patients, the most widespread claims were linked to meningitis and cancer.

The next most widespread sources of medical malpractice claims were drug errors, ranging from 5.6 to 20 percent of all cases. Most claims were unsuccessful. In the USA, just 33 percent of claims winded up in a disbursement; and almost 50 percent in the UK.

Over the last two decades, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits brought against US primary care doctors has not altered drastically. This hasn’t been the situation in Australia and the United Kingdom, where claims against general practitioners have been progressively rising.

The term primary care has a somewhat different definition of country to country, making it difficult to take a broad view from these results, the authors stated. “Utilizing legal claims as a substitute for unpleasant events has its limits as well,” they further stated.

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X-ray scan of a back injury.

In the journal’s abstract, the authors concluded:

“This malpractice claims review in primary care focuses on medication and diagnosis error as fields to be prioritized in creating risk management systems and educational strategies. “

Blood thinners comprise 7 percent of all medical errors – University of Illinois researchers reported in Annals of Pharmacotherapy that about 7 percent of all medical errors in patients that are hospitalized in the United States involve anticoagulant drugs (blood thinners), which are prescribed to lessen the risk of heart attack and stroke by stopping blood clots inside the arteries and veins.

Ten percent of career time in waiting for resolutions in a medical malpractice claim – the average physician in the United States spends about 10 percent of their career time waiting for a medical malpractice claim resolution, Seth Seabury (RAND Corporation) and Anupam Jena (Harvard Medical School) stated in the journal Health Affairs.

Professor Anupam Jena stated, “We think that the time needed to resolve medical malpractice lawsuits might be an important reason that doctors are so verbal concerning malpractice reform and that whichever endeavor at such reform will have to take the speed with which claims are solved into account.”