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Medical malpractice lawsuits less common for primary care

People who feel ill commonly pick up the phone and make an appointment with their primary care physician, internal medicine practitioner or family practice doctor. These specialties attract doctors who are somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades. It is their job to make an initial diagnosis, prescribe medicine for common illnesses, and make referrals to specialists. Patients often feel close to their family physician and trust him or her to correctly determine the source of any medical problems. However, according to a physician at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, every year at least 150,000 people in the United States suffer harm from medical errors due to their doctor’s missed or incorrect diagnosis.

Despite the fact that a missed diagnosis can result in unnecessary illness or even death, primary care doctors are not sued for medical malpractice as often as specialists; claims against family doctors amount to only 7.6 percent to 16 percent of all medical malpractice actions filed. When a primary care doctor is sued, it is usually because the doctor failed to identify a heart attack, detect cancer, or make a determination of meningitis. Litigation is also filed against primary care physicians in cases of patient death caused by a drug mistake and in situations where a doctor failed to recognize appendicitis, broken bones, or an ectopic pregnancy.

When a trusted doctor makes mistakes, patients and their families can feel betrayed and angry. A doctor error can be devastating especially in situations where a proper diagnosis and treatment could have resulted in a healthy patient instead of one with a worsened medical condition. In such situations, it can be instructional for the patient or family to meet with an attorney who specializes in medical professional negligence.

Source: Medical Daily, “When Primary Care Physicians Miss Diagnoses: the Main Reasons for PCP Malpractice Claims,” Lecia Bushak, July 18, 2013

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