diagnostic errors in healthcare

Diagnostic errors in healthcare may be more common than you think. When a provider makes an incorrect or delayed diagnosis or fails to communicate a diagnosis to a patient or other healthcare providers, this can result in serious, sometimes fatal, harm.

According to a 2013 study from Johns Hopkins, diagnostic errors are relatively common and often bring devastating consequences. David E. Newman-Toker M.D, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and leader of the study published online in BMJ Quality and Safety, said that the study provides evidence that “diagnostic errors could easily be the biggest patient safety and medical malpractice problem in the United States.” According to the Johns Hopkins study, a larger number of medical malpractice claims were filed for diagnostic errors than for surgical mistakes or medication overdoses during the study period. More than $38 billion was paid as compensation in medical malpractice claims over 24 years to patients harmed by their healthcare providers’ diagnostic mistakes – more than was awarded for any other type of malpractice.

The Johns Hopkins researchers estimate that every year, between 80,000 and 160,000 people in the U.S. will suffer significant permanent injuries or will die because they were not properly diagnosed by their healthcare providers. Sadly, these injuries and deaths might have been prevented if the medical providers had lived up to the standards of their professions.

Types of Diagnostic Errors in Healthcare

Diagnostic errors generally fall into five broad categories:


Making the wrong diagnosis is one of the most common types of diagnostic errors and can lead to doctors providing the wrong treatments.


Patients can be harmed when doctors diagnose a condition that would not have caused problems if it hadn’t been diagnosed. Overdiagnosis may lead to doctors providing treatments that aren’t necessary but are risky or lower patients’ quality of life.

Missed Diagnosis

When a doctor fails to diagnose a condition that requires treatment, the patient will not get the care they need.

Delayed Diagnosis

For diseases, such as cancer, where early treatment is beneficial or even essential, a delayed diagnosis can lower the patient’s chances of recovering.

Failure to Recognize Complications

Even if a medical provider correctly diagnoses a condition initially, if the provider later fails to diagnose complications that aggravate or change the condition, the patient can be harmed.

When Can Diagnostic Errors Lead to a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

Not every diagnostic error rises to the level of medical malpractice. To bring a successful medical malpractice lawsuit, you need to show that:

  1. The doctor made a diagnostic error.
  2. By making the diagnostic error, the doctor failed to meet the applicable medical standard of care.
  3. The diagnostic error was the cause of the patient’s injury.

Proving that the doctor failed to meet the standard of care is a technical endeavor that often requires an expert medical opinion. Proving that the error caused the injury requires showing that the patient’s condition was worse than it would have been had they been correctly diagnosed.

Contact the Medical Malpractice Attorneys at Garmey Law

To successfully pursue a diagnostic error claim, you’ll need to work with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. The personal injury law team at Garmey Law has the skill, knowledge, experience, and relationships with top medical experts to handle cases that may be too complex for many other law firms. If you believe that you or a loved one suffered harm by being wrongly diagnosed, call us at (207) 481-4683, or contact us through our website for a free consultation.