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Study shows primary care doctors more likely to misdiagnose cardiac disease in woman

A recent study has shown that primary care doctors are seemingly at a higher frequency of missing the proper diagnosis when it comes to heart disease in women. According to a recent study, primary care physicians are sued for medical malpractice more often than physicians practicing in other fields-specifically in situations involving misdiagnosis of coronary heart disease in females.

The study

The research was conducted by The Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurance carrier based in California. Company researchers examined 41 medical malpractice lawsuits from 2007-2013 that related to injury or death caused by cardiac disease in female patients.

The study results revealed that primary care physicians were sued for malpractice at a much higher rate than physicians practicing in specialty fields. Specific data showed that:

  • Primary care doctors were defendants in 50 percent of all lawsuits
  • Cardiologists were defendants in 22 percent of all lawsuits
  • Emergency medicine doctors were defendants in 17 percent of lawsuits
  • Orthopedists were defendants in 6 percent of lawsuits

The study concluded that over 80 percent of cases involving cardiac disease in women were the result of misdiagnosis or "inadequate patient assessment."

Another study published last year in the Journal of American Medical Association, or JAMA, seems to confirm that misdiagnosis is a common reason for primary care physicians to be sued. In the study, JAMA researchers examined over 7000 malpractice claims from the State of Massachusetts. The results revealed that 85 percent of claims against primary care doctors were attributed to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of cancer, heart disease and other conditions.

Doctor patient ratio

One physician and representative with the American College of Cardiology Board of Trustees indicates that this data isn't surprising. He points to the doctor-patient ratio as a potential reason for a higher percentage of claims against primary doctors.

"Primary care physicians encounter many more problems and many more patients. They are the front line," he said.

Reduced patient contact

The use of today's 21st century electronic medical records, or EMRs, may be another reason behind the statistic. With EMRs, primary care doctors spend more time with computers and less face-to-face time with patients-which increases the potential for misdiagnosis.

According to a study published last August in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, medical interns (utilizing EMRs) spend roughly 12 percent of their time each day with patients-down from roughly 20 percent a decade ago.

Experience

A cardiologist in Illinois points to inexperience as a possible rationale behind the data.

"Because [women] are more difficult to diagnose, one would suspect that physicians who have less experience and maybe less trained are more likely to make errors," the cardiologist indicated.

Mitigation

The Doctors Company Senior Vice President of Patient Safety and Risk stresses the importance of thoroughness. Doctors and healthcare professionals should take adequate time to obtain all possible patient information to help reduce occurrences of misdiagnosis.

Like many other practice specialties, family practitioners today are under enormous time constraints created by the reimbursement system of many insurers and as a result, information often slips through the cracks. This hustle and haste, unfortunately, often leads to misdiagnosis and irreparable consequences for the patient.

Patients need to be their own advocate and make sure that their doctor knows ALL the facts and listens to their concerns.

"The mission of Britcher Leone, LLC is to unite the professional disciplines of medicine and law to help the victims of physicians' malpractice and serious personal injury restore their future and the future of their families."
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