Family suffers two tragic malpractice deaths due to misdiagnosis

Medical mistakes or errors often occur because diagnostic failures. The healthcare industry needs to improve it all facets of this process.

A correct medical diagnosis is one of the most important elements of effective healthcare. Without a proper diagnosis, virtually nothing done for a patient will help their condition and in far too many cases, the failure to accurately diagnosis a medical condition or illness can lead to the worsening of the patient's condition or in the worst-case scenario, his or her death.

It also leads to a significant increase in overall health care costs, as the resources unnecessarily employed in treating the wrongly diagnosis condition provide no value to the patient, and if they suffer severe, adverse effects or death, there is the additional cost of that treatment or of the medical malpractice lawsuit and settlement.

According to a recent report from the National Academy of Medicine, misdiagnosis is a very significant problem for the healthcare industry. The actual sized of the problem is not fully understood because many of the cases are missed. The system protects doctor's errors, with a patient dying and his or her family never knows that he or she had been misdiagnosed years earlier.

Adverse medical events will affect everyone

Shockingly, the report notes that virtually everyone on in the U.S. will suffer an adverse effect of a misdiagnosis. The catastrophic outcomes from these types of medical errors can be heartbreaking.

One woman tells of her newborn exhibiting symptoms of too much bilirubin, a condition caused by their liver's incapacity to process this material. The classic symptom is the baby's skin takes on an orange hue.

In spite of repeated efforts on behalf of the mother to obtain treatment, doctors dismissed her baby's condition as an ear infection. He eventually suffered kernicterus, which left him brain damaged with cerebral palsy.

Had he been properly diagnosed, he could have been treated with a few hours of light therapy. Instead, because of the brain damage, he will need to receive a lifetime of medical care.

The report suggests that better communication is the key, and that doctors, nurses, patients and their families all must work together. The importance of communication is highlighted by another incident involving the same woman whose son suffered brain damage, only this time, the victim of the diagnostic error was her husband.

Misdiagnosis strikes the same family twice

Her husband suffered a pain in his neck. A tumor was found, but incredibly, it was diagnosed as benign. But it was not. The pathologist thought it was so obvious that it was malignant that after he ordered additional tests he never bothered to contact the doctor. Her husband died at age 45 after the cancer spread to his spinal cord.

Cases like this are appalling and should never happen, yet because of poor communication and discrete, isolated treatments, important information becomes lost.

Part of the problem is that doctors and hospitals are compensated for individual tasks, not for treating the whole patient. And because they do not get paid for something as basic as one doctor speaking to another, it often never happens.

And what happens when that doesn't happen is too often tragic.