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Could a misdiagnosis constitute professional misconduct?

On Behalf of | Apr 12, 2017 | Medical Licensing

Our professional license defense blog has discussed various allegations that may give rise to an ethical investigation. Today’s post discusses the issue of misdiagnoses.

Diagnostic error may be more common that readers realize. An analysis of 286 cases involving patients that sought second opinions found that 20 percent received a distinctly different second diagnosis. Only 12 percent received the same diagnosis, and the remaining cases involved second opinions that better defined the initial diagnosis.

According to a 2015 report from the National Academy of Medicine, around 5 percent of adults in outpatient care, or 12 million Americans, receive a misdiagnosis every year. Other research has found that diagnostic errors account for around 10 percent of patient deaths, and up to 17 percent of adverse hospital patient events.

Admittedly, modern medicine is very complex. As one researcher observed, diagnosis can be quite difficult because there are about 10,000 diseases, yet only between 200 and 300 symptoms used by medical practitioners to identify them. Additional advice, and a fresh pair of eyes, can be a helpful strategy for patients seeking diagnostic confirmation.

Given this data, should a physician be worried that a misdiagnosis might jeopardize his or her professional license? The answer depends on the context, but it seems clear that professional standards do not require 100 percent initial diagnostic accuracy.

For example, symptoms may manifest differently in individuals, or suggest one of several possible diseases. Through a combination of gathering scientific data and cognitive deduction, a professional can make an informed diagnosis. A professional that conforms to this standard of care will be keeping in accord with his or her peers.

Source: Washington Post, “20 percent of patients with serious conditions are first misdiagnosed, study says,” Lenny Bernstein, April 4, 2017