When actor John Ritter collapsed due to chest pain on the set of “Eight Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter,” he was immediately taken to a nearby hospital to be examined. The actor, who played Jack Tripper on the 70’s sitcom Three’s Company, was told he had an acute myocardial infarction. Just a few hours later, he was then told he was suffering from a pericardial tamponade. Both of those diagnoses were wrong and the beloved actor died later that evening from an aortic aneurysm.
Misdiagnosis, like John Ritter’s, makes up a large percent of medical malpractice claims and the result is serious injury, additional costs, and even death. According to a report from Johns Hopkins University, mistaken diagnoses results in injuries or death to an estimated 160,000 Americans every year. The total cost for diagnostic errors is estimated to be $38.8 billion, which the study authors adjusted to account for inflation over the 25 year span of claim that were examined. Forty percent of the medical malpractice claims studied resulted in the death of the patient.
There is a lack of attention surrounding mistaken diagnosis in the United States. Even some medical mistakes can lead to a misdiagnosis by a physician. Many medical malpractice claims settle out of court so the topic doesn’t receive much public scrutiny and according to the study’s lead author David Newman-Toker, hospitals prefer it that way.
“No one wants to tell anyone they are missing 10% to 20% of their diagnoses,” he said. “There isn’t going to be one magic bullet to solve the problem of diagnostic error, but we can start by consistently monitoring and measuring it.”
In the past, statistics have shown that approximately 80,000 deaths occur each year due to diagnostic errors but Newman-Toker said he believes that number may be much higher. This recent study proves that transparent medical error reports as well as financial accountability on the part of the hospital and/or doctor needs to occur much more frequently so patients can feel safe and have confidence in the doctor.
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