Wrong diagnosis was the leading factor in medical malpractice lawsuit payouts over a 25-year period in the United States. The data comes from researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. The study provides California medical malpractice lawyers firm evidence of the need for greater focus on preventing diagnostic errors to reduce medical errors.

The results of the study were published recently in BMJ Quality and Safety. The study finds over the past 25 years, more than $39 billion have been paid out in medical malpractice claim settlements. The researchers analyzed a total of more than 350,000 claims and found that diagnostic errors accounted for the lion's share of all medical malpractice payouts.

The researchers analyzed data from between 1986 and 2010 based on diagnosis-related errors. Only medical malpractice claims that ended in a payout were considered as part of the analysis.

The researchers found diagnostic errors accounted for approximately 35% of the total payments made. Diagnostic errors were the number one cause of medical malpractice claims that led to disability or death of the patient.

Most diagnostic errors involved out-patients. However, in-hospital patients who suffered a medical error as the result of a diagnostic mistake were much more likely to die as a result of the error. The researchers estimate the number of fatalities resulting from misdiagnosis-related errors in hospitals around the country may be as high as 160,000 fatalities every year.

Patients can reduce the risk of being hurt by diagnostic errors by asking more questions and realizing even experienced doctors can make diagnostic errors. Delivering a diagnosis based on the belief there's no other illness that fits the symptoms, is not acceptable.