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A groundbreaking new study by The Doctors Company and CRICO Strategies has been published that looks at missed diagnoses of patients with heart problems. Investigations into 251 closed malpractice cases were done where patients alleged that their medical practitioner did not diagnose them with a cardiovascular condition. The study found that compared to other malpractice claims, these cases resulted in higher severity injuries to the patients.
The study was titled “Missed Diagnosis of Cardiovascular Disease in Outpatient Medicine,” published in The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety. The researchers’ key finding was that 23 percent of patients with missed diagnosis of coronary artery disease or heart attack had a prior history of cardiovascular disease. They also found that despite the high prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors, most patients with missed outpatient coronary artery disease had initial diagnoses that were common disease mimics, such as esophageal reflux and musculoskeletal disorders, or were nonspecific.
The researchers were surprised that so many of the cardiovascular malpractice claims occurred in patients who had risk factors of cardiac disease. Co-author of the study, Gene R. Quinn, MD, MS, and MPH, had said, “In short, physicians aren’t just missing the hard diagnoses.”
In the United States, coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Women are especially at risk for misdiagnosis of myocardial infarction (heart attack) because their symptoms often present differently than men’s. The atypical symptoms for women may include fatigue, nausea and vomiting, epigastric burning, and back pain, which can result in diagnoses of indigestion and musculoskeletal problems as described in the study. Women may also be diagnosed with psychiatric or emotional problems such as anxiety and therefore be prescribed anti-anxiety drugs instead of receiving an emergency cardio-consult and the appropriate treatment.
Other groups at higher risk for misdiagnosis are non-white and elderly patients. Non-white patients, such as African-Americans, tend to be younger than white patients by an average of nearly 10 years. Medical professionals may not immediately consider younger patients at risk for heart attacks resulting in missed or delayed diagnosis. Elderly patients sometimes have atypical symptoms and often have other chronic illnesses that make a heart attack diagnosis complicated and more difficult.
Because of the new study, researchers are advising medical practitioners to consider cardiovascular disease, especially for patients with previous cardiovascular disease, when making an initial diagnosis. Co-author Darrell Ranum said, “These findings will help guide quality improvement efforts to decrease diagnostic error and improve patient safety. The next step is research into designing simple, scalable, and easily implemented interventions to prevent errors in diagnosis of patients at high risk of cardiac disease.”
Missed or delayed diagnosis can have profound effects on a patient’s health and psyche, making recovery more difficult or leaving the patient with permanent physical damage. At Folkman Law, our experienced Cherry Hill medical malpractice lawyers can provide you with counsel about your legal options. Rest assured that we will fight to recover the maximum allowable compensation for your case. Contact us online or call us today at 856-354-9444 to schedule a free consultation. From our offices in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Philadelphia and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, we proudly serve clients throughout South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania.