Misdiagnosis is, unfortunately, an occurrence that is not uncommon in healthcare today. It is estimated that between 10-20% of cases are misdiagnosed and that 755 of misdiagnosed cases were the result of negligence. Misdiagnosis is also the leading cause of a medical malpractice suit, with nearly 9,000 internal medicine suits from 1995-2009 being the result of a failure to correctly diagnose a condition. Misdiagnosis can prove very dangerous: "One report found that 28 percent of 583 diagnostic mistakes were life threatening or had resulted in death or permanent disability."
In a recent case in Massachusetts, a misdiagnosis by Dr. Peter Clarke of Brigham and Women’s Hospital resulted in Jeanne Ellis’ lung cancer going unnoticed for more than a year. By the time a correct diagnosis was made, the cancer had advanced into a late stage. From the Boston Herald:
Jeanne Ellis visited the hospital’s emergency room in October 2006 with complaints of a persistent cough, according to lawyers for both sides. A doctor ordered a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia, which Clarke read and determined to be normal. Ellis was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection and prescribed antibiotics.
Thirteen months later, Ellis again visited the hospital after her symptoms worsened. Another doctor ordered a CT scan, which showed advanced lung cancer. She died about seven months later.
Ellis’ son, Johnette, sued Clarke on behalf of his mother and was awarded $16.7 million in a medical malpractice suit, which is the largest verdict awarded in the state so far this year. Lawyers for Dr. Clarke have stated that they plan to ask for a new trial.