Peterson, Berk & Cross, S.C.
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Misdiagnoses lead to costly mistakes

The problem of misdiagnosis affects patients in Wisconsin and the rest of the nation every year. Although many misdiagnoses are either inconvenient or harmless to patients, others could cause severe consequences such as the patient's death or, in some cases, unintended exposure to a contagious disease. Although the amount specifically attributed to misdiagnoses was not specified, a 1999 report from the U.S. Institute of Medicine estimated 98,000 fatalities from medical errors in general each year. A more direct figure may be available soon thanks to a new report scheduled for release this month that focuses on misdiagnosis.

Technical causes cited in misdiagnosis errors include poorly functioning imaging devices as well as written and verbal miscommunication. Errors also result due to some doctors' cognitive mistakes, such as focusing on an initial diagnosis without adjusting for changes to a patient's symptoms.

One poignant reminder of the potential harm from misdiagnosis involved a teenage girl who died following gallbladder surgery. She sustained massive post-surgical internal bleeding after doctors repeatedly failed to target a virus inhibiting her blood's ability to clot and heal. Another case received widespread media attention when a Liberian man's early misdiagnosis and discharge at a Dallas hospital heightened caretakers' risk of exposure to the Ebola virus afflicting him.

A patient who is harmed as a result of a physician's diagnostic error could face serious adversity. An original condition left untreated due to a mistake could worsen, causing the patient to need further treatment and to endure substantial complications. Consulting with an attorney who is experienced in medical malpractice litigation may be a viable option for a patient dealing with a serious misdiagnosis and hoping for a legal remedy.

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