The New York Times recently wrote on a blog report identifying what kind of medical error accounts for most malpractice payments. As it turns out, it is not surgical mistakes, medication errors or labor and delivery mishaps.
Looking at the most common cause of paid claims for malpractice, the report concluded that making errors in diagnosis was the most common reason.
The article noted, “Using the National Practitioner Data Bank, which records actions taken by state licensing authorities against health care practitioners, researchers found that 28.6 percent of malpractice payments are for diagnostic mistakes.”
The New York Times cited an online study, in BMJ Quality and Safety (touting itself as “The international journal of healthcare improvement”) which found more than 100,000 payments for diagnostic error from 1986 to 2010. “Diagnostic blunders accounted for 33.8 percent of the disabilities and almost 40 percent of the deaths that resulted in malpractice payments.”
The Times went onto note that the senior author of the research paper, Dr. David E. Newman-Toker, an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins, said that “this is a major health problem,” and that physicians, hospitals and insurers all need to contribute to fixing it. “At the policy level,” he said, “there is no institute that views it as their problem.”
Newman-Toker noted, “There’s a lot of room for improvement,” he continued. “You can’t get the treatment right if you don’t get the diagnosis right.”