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Professional Liability: Claims for Primary Care Physicians Due to Missed Diagnoses, Drug Errors

Posted on: August 22, 2013 by Caitlin Morgan

Professional Liability Claims for Primary Care Physicians Due to Missed Diagnoses, Drug Errors

Professional Liability: Claims for Primary Care Physicians Due to Missed Diagnoses, Drug Errors

A new report published on BMJ Open, an online, open access journal, dedicated to publishing medical research from all disciplines and therapeutic areas, cites that missed diagnoses and drug errors make up the bulk of malpractice claims brought against doctors involved in primary care.

Authors of the study conducted a computerized, systematic search of English-based medical articles to find data involving medical malpractice trends across several countries, including in the U.S, U.K., Australia, Canada and France. Studies were included in the review if they reported original data involving at least 10 medical malpractice claims based in primary care. The authors do acknowledge that although the definition of a “primary care” physician varies a bit in each country, they were patterns in the types of legal claims filed.

A primary care physician includes practitioners and internists who provide principal medical care for patients. This may include general diagnoses and the treatment of common illnesses, with referrals to specialists if a condition is beyond the physician’s range of ability, training and experience. Primary care physicians also play an important role by keeping medical histories and medical records for patients.

According to the analysis published on BMJ Open, of the 239,756 closed medical malpractice claims in the U.S. filed between 1985 and 2008, family practitioners (primary care physicians) represented 11.5% of all claims. Another review of 1,452 claims in the U.S. revealed that primary care ranked third, representing 16% of claims. Failures to diagnose and delays in diagnoses were the most common grounds for medical malpractice actions against primary care physicians across all studies, representing 26-63% of claims. These diagnostic failures among adults typically involved cancer and heart attacks. Others that cropped up frequently included appendicitis, ectopic pregnancy, and fractures also were missed diagnosed. Among children, the most frequent claims related to meningitis and cancers. Patient death was the outcome in 15-48% of claims across all included studies.

The second most common sources of malpractice claims were drug errors, although in the U.S., only one third of claims ended up in payout.

Misdiagnosing a medical condition or a delayed diagnosis on the part of a primary care physician may stem from failing to order additional testing, failures to recognize the signs of cancer or other medical conditions, or misidentification of symptoms as other, less serious illnesses.

Of course, implementing risk-mitigation protocols is necessary in this profession as in all professions where the work performed exposes one to liability. In addition, a properly secured medical malpractice or professional errors and omissions policy designed for physicians serves to transfer the risk. We can help you provide such policies to your physician insureds as well as others in the medical profession. Give Caitlin-Morgan a call at 877.226.1027.

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