Women and minorities more likely to receive stroke misdiagnosis

The misdiagnosis of an illness or disease can have tragic consequences. A patient complaining of headaches and dizziness may be sent home only to suffer a debilitating stroke. Poor hospital care, which includes misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, could contribute to 180,000 deaths each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Recently, a John Hopkins team of researchers concluded that doctors often discount or overlook signs of disabling strokes. The findings reported in the journal Diagnosis indicate that people under age 45, women and minorities were more likely to be misdiagnosed the week before suffering stroke.

The study was the first to quantify on a large scale the prevalence of stoke misdiagnosis. Using inpatient discharge records along with emergency department records, the researchers found 12.7 percent had been potentially misdiagnosed. Lead author Neurologist David Newman-Toker, M.D., Ph.D, estimated that the number of missed strokes based on new data is somewhere between about 50,000 and 100,000 per year.

Patients who complained of dizziness and headaches were frequently told they had a migraine or an inner ear infection. In more than half the cases, the unexpected returns for stroke occurred within 48 hours. Women and minorities were between 20 and 30 times more likely to receive a misdiagnosis.

With stroke early intervention is crucial to long-term patient health. A transient ischemic attack (TIA), also called a "ministroke" can be temporary and non-disabling. But it may indicate a more serious bleed or clot that may cause permanent disability or death if not treated. The researchers recommend a MRI, rather than a CT scan, which can be falsely reassuring.

Medical malpractice claims

The standard of proof in a medical malpractice claim is a preponderance of the evidence, which requires enough evidence to show that something is more likely than not. In the health care context, there must be evidence that a physician negligently deviated from the level of care reasonably expected of an ordinarily prudent physician in the same or similar circumstances.

Usually expert reports and testimony from other doctors are required to prove a case. In one Texas case, a man went to an emergency room complaining of neck pain from his head to shoulders, nausea, and vomiting. He was given medication and sent home. Six days later he returned and a CT scan diagnosed of subarachnoid hemorrhage. He suffered a heart attack and a stroke, which caused serious brain damage.

A medical expert in the case believed that a reasonably prudent medical care provider should have recognized the significant possibility of cerebral bleeding. The expert supported his opinion with details from the medical records. The expert report is generally crucial to a medical malpractice claim.

If you believe that a loved one suffered a serious injury or died because hospital negligence, seek the counsel of an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Medical malpractice claims are complex, but compensation may be available depending on what occurred.