Beyond aiding in the recovery for those affected by medical errors, malpractice lawsuits also play the critical role of ensuring hospital safety stays on the public radar. Without focused attention on the need to identify problems and improve, there is the risk of facilities getting caught in a rut–doing the same thing over and over, regardless of the errors that result.
The focus on malpractice does not exist only in newspapers. Medical researchers and academics are also drawn to the topic to study exactly what types of errors are most common and how they can be prevented.
For example, earlier this month international researchers published the results of a detailed study of a medical malpractice claims to understand what forms are most frequent. The findings were shared in full in the online version of the British Medical Journal (BMJ Open). The abstract and full text of the report can be found here.
Med Mal Lawsuit Study
The approach was unique, as it involved searching thousands of online journal documents in English related to malpractice claims. For the purpose of the study all claims were identified as “a written demand for compensation for medical injury.” In other words, this research effort attempted to synthesize the wide variety of previous studies on the same topic. It was a summary of the existing medical literature to provide a persuasive analysis of what claims actually are most common. All told about 34 “on point” studies were included. Most of that research was based out of the US, but other projects were conducted in the UK, Australia, Canada, and France.
What were the findings?
According to the abstract, the most common malpractice claim is a failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis. This form of error ranged from 26% to 63% of all claims according to the various studies. With the category of diagnostic error the most common ailments at issue were cancer, heart attack (myocardial infarction), appendicitis, ectopic pregnancy, broken bones, and meningitis.
After diagnostic error, the next most common problem spurring malpractice claims were medication errors. Depending on the study, these errors ranged from 5.6% to 20% of the total. The type of medication mistakes pointed to in the study that were most prevalent include steroid preparation mistakes, problem with antibiotics, and anticoagulants. Antidepressant and antipsychotic mistakes were also common.
It is important to point out that this analysis looked only at claims again primary care doctors. Medical specialists or those who may interact with patients along the line were not necessarily included here.
What does this mean for patients?
The most basic takeaway is a reminder that diagnosis is a critical stage in the process where errors occur. Patients should be vigilant about sharing all of their symptoms with medical professionals and seeking follow-up care early on if problems do not go away. Timing is incredibly important with this care, and so do not delay in asking questions and getting a second opinion if you feel that an initial assessment may be suspect.
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