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What are Common Medical Errors Made By Primary Care Physicians?

July 6, 2020

A Michigan woman went to see her doctor on a routine visit.

The doctor ordered a physical and Pap smear—not unusual for a young woman—and told the patient he’d call with the results in a few days.

The test is abnormal because it finds glandular cells, a dangerous pre-cancer of the cervix. The physician and facility fail to notify the young woman of abnormal result and do no more diagnostic testing or start necessary treatment. To add insult to injury, the physician sees the young woman two more times that year and fails to mention the abnormal result or do anything.

With no treatment, the abnormal cells on the cervix multiply, grow to be cancer, and invade nearby tissues. The next Pap smear a year later finds the glandular cell became cervical cancer. It is invasive by that late date, such that no medical treatment can salvage the woman’s reproductive system. Cancer surgeons remove her cervix and uterus to save her life. The healthcare errors deprive the woman of every child she could ever have.

Misdiagnosis and a lack of diagnosis are two common causes of death and injury to Michigan patients. Misdiagnosis happens when the patient is diagnosed with one condition but in fact is suffering from another. And a lack of a diagnosis can occur when a doctor views lab or test results and fails to recognize a disease or signs of a medical problem. Frequently, this involves a failure to communicate diagnostic test results to a patient.

In some instances, a doctor may be too busy to review a patient’s lab results properly and thoroughly. A doctor may make a diagnosis without reviewing or adequately examining the results, causing an incorrect diagnosis. When this happens, patients can be injured or die, and the patient or his or her family can bring an action against the physician for medical malpractice damages.

What are the Common Medical Errors Made By Primary Care Physicians?

Medical errors are an under-recognized cause of death. A study from Johns Hopkins says that medical errors are now the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.—outpacing strokes, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.

Research conducted in 2017 of medical malpractice results showed that over one-third (34%) of medical malpractice payouts were a result of diagnostic error and 18% were for treatment errors. Another malpractice insurer found that over half (52%) of medical malpractice claims were for error in the diagnostics or lab testing processes. This included errors in the following tasks:

  • The doctor ordering incorrect/or inappropriate lab tests;
  • The doctor’s decision to not order any lab tests;
  • The doctor failing to communicate clearly and efficiently his or her orders to the lab;
  • The doctor failing to accurately interpret the test results;
  • The doctor arriving at an incorrect diagnosis or concluding no diagnosis;
  • The doctor failing to clear communicate the test results to the patient; and
  • The doctor’s delay in repeating lab tests or additional diagnostics.

These types of medical errors with lab test results can also happen in almost any healthcare setting, such as hospitals, clinics, urgent care facilities, surgery centers, medical offices, long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and pharmacies.

There are many errors in implementing lab tests, especially when requested lab tests aren’t ordered, the lab performs the wrong test, or there are errors in ordering lab tests. This can include a doctor simply forgetting to order needed lab tests or providing incomplete information on lab request form. Physician errors in responding to abnormal laboratory test results, especially failing to recognize abnormal results or failing to interpret lab results in the context of the patient’s circumstances is a frequent cause of medical malpractice.

Patients are entitled to know the results of the lab tests in a timely manner.

What Can You Do to Help Reduce Errors?

No news may not always be good news, so if you have a lab test run, don’t assume that if you don’t hear anything from your doctor, you’re fine. Remember the woman whose doctor delayed in telling her about the abnormal Pap smear. Be proactive with your care and ask how and when you’ll get the results of your labs.

Also, you also shouldn’t be afraid to ask for additional tests if you think there’s something wrong.

Finally, regularly request a copy of your records from your primary care physician. Be certain that all the basic information is correct and review your medical history, including allergies, reported symptoms, diagnoses, prescription medications, diagnostic test results, and medical and surgical procedures. The accuracy of this information can help your primary care physician with your treatment and well-being.

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An incorrect, missing, or delayed diagnosis can cause serious injury or even death when abnormal lab test results aren’t reported promptly to the patient. This harm can also include the progression of an injury or condition that would not have worsened but for the delay or misinterpretation of the lab test results by the doctor.

For a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in Michigan, contact Buchanan Firm. We can discuss your situation if you believe you’ve been injured as the result of a misdiagnosis, missed diagnosis, or an error in lab results.

Our firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, Lansing, Holland, St. Joe, and Ann Arbor, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs. We will meet you after-hours, at home or in the hospital to accommodate you.

Contact us today!