Oregon residents may be interested to learn that the National Academy of Medicine has been working on a new study that examines misdiagnosis as a serious cause of medical error that harms patients. In one prominent case from 2014, a Liberian man in Texas was given antibiotics for an illness that later turned out to be Ebola.
Another case that gets reviewed yearly by pediatric residents at the University of Minnesota Medical Center involved a 15-year-old girl who was wrongly diagnosed with a gallbladder problem when she had an infection from the Epstein-Barr virus that made severe bleeding a risk. She died from internal bleeding after surgery. Although tests for Epstein-Barr have a high rate of false negatives, she was not retested after the initial one. Some experts believe she should have been.
Avoiding wrong diagnoses requires a delicate balance between actions like doing too many tests on a patient and putting the patient’s well-being first. Over-testing can be harmful, but medical professionals must be careful not to make assumptions about a patient’s condition. Studies also show that problems of misdiagnosis can be systemic. They might involve equipment failure that returns faulty results, or they may be due to poor communication. Medical professionals might fail to question the judgment of their superiors or their own hunches.
A failure to correctly diagnose an illness can lead to delayed treatment or even death. Family members of a deceased patient who feel that their loved one may have been a victim of medical malpractice as a result of a delayed or missed diagnosis may wish to consult an attorney to see whether such failure constituted negligence.