Study: Cancer, Vascular Events, and Infections Make Up Most High-Harm Malpractice Claims

A new study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and CRICO Strategies found that 74% of inaccurate or delayed diagnoses that result in permanent disability or death are attributable to three disease categories: cancer, vascular events, and infections.

Published in the journal Diagnosis, the study was funded by the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine through a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Researchers analyzed CRICO’s Comparative Benchmarking System, a database of more than 400,000 malpractice claims drawn from more than 400 academic and community medical centers that is estimated to contain 30% of all malpractice claims in the U.S. The study looked at approximately 55,000 malpractice claims to determine how many were attributable to diagnostic error.

After reviewing underlying disease states to identify patterns of misdiagnosis, the researchers found that three-quarters of the diagnostic errors causing the most harm were attributable to three categories: cancer (37.8%), vascular events (22.8%), and infection (13.5%). These cases resulted in $1.8 billion in malpractice payouts over 10 years.

“For many patients, misdiagnosis causes severe harm and expense, and in the worst cases, death,” said the study’s lead author David Newman-Toker, MD, PhD, professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality Center for Diagnostic Excellence, in a release. “This study shows us where to focus to start making a difference for patients. It tells us that tackling diagnosis in these three specific disease areas could have a major impact on reducing misdiagnosis-related harms.”