Failure to Diagnose Alarmingly Prevalent, Says Study

Ava Lawson | May 7th, 2013

new york medical malpractice attorneyDiagnostic error in a medical setting is more common than you might think. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association states that 40 percent of patients who returned after an initial visit with their primary care provider had been misdiagnosed. In the context of medical malpractice claims against physicians, failure to diagnose and/or misdiagnosis account for 28.6 percent of payouts, and diagnostic mistakes caused nearly 40 percent of the deaths that resulted in malpractice payments. These disturbing statistics were published online this April in BMJ Quality & Safety, using data from The National Practitioner Data Bank.

The report states that the most common types of diagnostic error were:

  • Failure to diagnose: 54.2%
  • Delay in diagnosis: 19.9%
  • Wrong diagnosis: 16.0%

The study’s lead author, Dr. David E. Newman-Toker, a neurology professor at Johns Hopkins concedes “this is a major health problem,” and a concerted effort among hospitals, doctors and insurers is needed. He added, “There is a lot of room for improvement…You can’t get the treatment right if you don’t get the diagnosis right.”

The New York medical malpractice attorney team at The Sander Firm urges patients to be aware that certain illnesses are misdiagnosed time and time again, and it’s worth being your own vigilant health care advocate so that you don’t fall victim.

Failure to diagnose serious conditions

A failure to diagnose is the most dangerous of medical mistakes, and the long-term consequences are often catastrophic to the patient. There are various reasons why a doctor may fail to diagnose a condition, including:

  • Failing to perform regular screenings in high-risk patients
  • Misinterpreting lab results, x-rays, MRIs or other tests
  • Failing to recognize potential signs and symptoms of an illness or disease
  • Failing to pay attention to and act on a patient’s complaints in a timely manner
  • Failing to order appropriate tests when necessary
  • Misdiagnosing a cancerous or malignant tumor as benign
  • Failing to provide adequate follow-up care and additional tests as indicated
  • Delaying referral of a patient to a specialist

Conditions frequently misdiagnosed

The following are conditions that health care professionals frequently misdiagnose or fail to diagnose, leading to medical malpractice lawsuits.

  • Stroke
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • Bacterial meningitis
  • Cancer – especially cancer of the colon, breast, prostate and lung
  • Allergic reactions including anaphylaxis
  • Lyme disease
  • Diabetic reactions such as coma
  • Parasitic infections
  • Periodontal disease

New York medical malpractice attorney

How can you keep yourself from becoming a victim of medical misdiagnosis? Ask questions, know your family history, demand more tests if you feel it’s necessary, and always get a second or third medical opinion. Failure to diagnose a condition early often results in severe medical complications, permanent injuries, the need for more aggressive therapies, and in worst case scenarios, death.

If you or someone you care about has suffered harm resulting from misdiagnosis, you need the legal expertise of a New York medical malpractice attorney. For a free, no-obligation consultation of your case, please contact The Sanders Firm today at 1.800.FAIR.PLAY. Our veteran team offers more than 45 years of personal injury litigation experience successfully representing clients in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Long Island and Staten Island.


  1. British Medical Journal, 25-Year summary of US malpractice claims for diagnostic errors 1986–2010: an analysis from the National Practitioner Data Bank, http://qualitysafety.bmj.com/content/early/2013/03/27/bmjqs-2012-001550.abstract

  2. New York Times, Why Doctors Are Sued, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/why-doctors-are-sued/