A misdiagnosis occurs in at least 1 out of every 20 patient encounters in doctors' offices, according to a study by researchers at the Houston Veterans Affairs Center for Innovation and Quality, Effectiveness and Safety and the Baylor College of Medicine. This translates into at least 12 million patients being misdiagnosed each year and, of these errors, at least half of these errors have the potential to cause severe harm. The rate of misdiagnosis malpractice in the primary care setting is higher than in any other area of medicine.
Primary Care Malpractice claims against primary care physicians are more difficult to defend and lead to a higher percentage of paid claims. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported a study of 7224 malpractice claims over a 5 year period in Massachusetts, with 551 arising from primary outpatient care. The study found that although primary care claims accounted for only 7.7% of claims, they were significantly more likely to be settled (35% vs. 20%) and/or result in a plaintiff's verdict (1.6% vs. 0.9%).
Primary Care Malpractice Claims are mostly a result of missed diagnoses and medication errors, a recent study in the British Medical Journal reports. Thirty four studies performed in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and France were reviewed. The most common cause of malpractice claims were missed or delayed diagnosis, accounting from 26% to 63% of all claims in all the studies. Death was the most frequent result of these misdiagnoses. Failing to diagnose cancer, myocardial infarction and meningitis were the most common errors. Medication errors were the second most frequent cause for malpractice claims, totaling between 5.6% and 20% depending on the study reviewed. Errors occurred with multi-provider care, with 43% of errors involving 2 or more clinicians and 16% involving 3 or more clinicians.