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'Misdiagnosis' Leading Cause of U.S. Malpractice Payouts: Study
Date:4/23/2013

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Sometimes, these mistakes can be fatal right off of the bat. "If someone has a headache, and you say 'take two aspirin and call me in the morning,' but the headache is really a brain aneurysm, the patient could die before morning," Newman-Toker added.

Patients are not powerless. "Even great doctors make mistakes," he said. "Ask, 'is there anything else this can be?'" he advised. "If the doctor says 'no' [then] ask 'why?' and an answer such as 'because it's the only thing it could be' is not good enough."

Dr. David Troxel, medical director of The Doctors Company, a malpractice insurer based in Napa, Calif., said the study "provides valuable information to caregivers about medical errors."

"I believe that the disclosure of this information will enhance patient safety," Troxel said. "Patients can also play an important role in reducing the incidence of diagnostic errors by providing their doctor with an accurate medical history, adhering to the prescribed follow-up plan, keeping return visit appointments to discuss abnormal test results and asking questions to clarify instructions they don't clearly understand."

Malpractice attorney Michael Sacopulos, CEO for the Medical Risk Institute in Terre Haute, Ind., said he was surprised by the extent of the new findings. "Maybe things get off course right at the beginning, but this has not been studied as much as other errors that result in malpractice suits," he said.

Still "medicine is an art and not a science so this will happen," Sacopulos said. "Patients need to be persistent with physicians because so often the doctor will make a diagnosis and over time, it becomes clear that it was wrong. The first attempt may not be accurate. Think of it as a work in progress instead of being written in stone."

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