Missed diagnoses by urologists resulting in malpractice payment

William J Badger, Michael E Moran, Christa Abraham, Bharat Yarlagadda, Michael Perrotti
Journal of Urology 2007, 178 (6): 2537-9

PURPOSE: Missed diagnoses are a patient safety concern and they can result in malpractice allegation. The specialist physician may be liable for missed or delayed diagnoses even if an abnormality in the physician area of expertise is ruled out. We approached this largely unstudied area of medical malpractice in an effort to increase physician awareness and identify opportunities for prevention.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Working with the Medical Liability Mutual Insurance Company of New York State, we evaluated malpractice claims in urology that were closed with indemnity payment between 1985 and 2004. We identified all such claims resulting from alleged missed or delayed diagnoses by urologists. Claims were divided into 2 main categories based on whether the missed diagnosis was primarily urological, ie testis torsion, or not urological, ie appendicitis.

RESULTS: A total of 75 missed diagnosis claims were identified, representing 15% of claims overall. The total indemnity payment for missed diagnosis claims was $32,591,013, which represented 27% of all indemnity payments for the study period. They were divided into 58 missed urological diagnoses and 17 missed nonurological diagnoses. Cancer represented 71% of missed urological diagnoses and 41% of missed nonurological diagnoses. Urological cancer missed diagnosis claims were associated with the highest average indemnity payment of $526,460. The average indemnity payment for missed diagnosis claims was 92% greater than the average indemnity payment for all other claims ($434,546 vs $226,133). An increase in the frequency of missed diagnosis claims closed with indemnity payment and in the amount of payment for missed diagnosis claims were observed during the 20-year study period.

CONCLUSIONS: Indemnity payments resulting from missed diagnosis claims represent a disproportionately high percent of total indemnity payments (27%) due to a high average payment for such claims. Liability for the urologist resulted from missed diagnoses not only of urological conditions, but also of nonurological conditions.

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