Is your physician making the right call?

A new study shows that mistakes made while diagnosing patients were the most common and most costly of all medical oversights. In fact, results showed an even distribution of malpractice cases that ended with deadly and non-deadly consequences.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine analyzed figures from The National Practitioner Data Bank encompassing 20 years of malpractice claims. Cases were evaluated for the nature of the mistake, the outcome, and any payments.

Lead author Dr. David E Newman-Toker from the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins claims diagnostic errors in US hospitals cause between 40,000 and 80,000 preventable deaths each year.

Dr. Newman-Toker and his colleagues probed 350,706 diagnosis-related claims that were paid off while making adjustments for inflation.

Their findings showed that diagnostic errors such as failure in diagnosis, delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis accounted for the leading type of claim with 91,082 cases and most costly with 35.6 percent of total malpractice payments.

Even more surprising, approximately 41 percent of malpractice claims ended in death while 17 percent ended with significant permanent injury.

All things considered, malpractice payouts amounted to $34.5 billion from 1986 to 2005, 60 percent of which coming from cases that ended in death.

"We found roughly equal numbers of lethal and non-lethal errors in our analysis, suggesting that the public health impact of diagnostic errors may be far greater than previously imagined," Dr. Newman-Toker stated.

"Stakeholders including patients, insurers, hospital systems, and federal agencies have a vested interest in making diagnostic error reduction a patient safety priority."

The entire study was published Monday in the Society for Medical Decision Making's journal Medical Decision Making.