A diagnostic error can include a delayed diagnosis, an incorrect one or a condition that a Massachusetts physician has not ever diagnosed. According to a study conducted at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, a diagnostic medical error is the most common and the most deadly problem. Additionally, these errors are also the leading cause of paid claims, making up 28.6 percent of those lawsuits.

Looking over 25 years of malpractice claims, researchers concluded that as many as 160,000 people every year suffer from a misdiagnosis-related death or permanent injury. What’s more, lawsuits stemming from these types of claims garner the highest payout, comprising $38.8 billion in verdicts and settlements over the studied time frame. 

The nature of the problem, however, has posed a problem on focusing on and rectifying it. One of the study’s researchers noted that diagnostic errors are difficult to measure, unlike other common medical mistakes. Because there is a lag time between when the mistake occurs and when it is identified, a misdiagnosis or undiagnosed problem is hard to track. Unlike a surgical error or other mistake, diagnostic errors are not subject to public reporting requirements, the study’s author reports.

Overall, the Journal of Patient Safety concludes that roughly 210,000 people in the United States die every year as a result of medical negligence. That number could be as high as 400,000, but there are limitations, such as incomplete medical records, that cause the discrepancy. These numbers, as the Journal of the American Medical Association notes, mean that medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

A report in The Washington Post points out that additional diagnostic testing isn’t necessarily the solution, as it could put additional costs and undue stress on a patient. The medical industry needs to find a solution in order to minimize the number of diagnostic errors and preventable harm that is occurring.