When Missing a ‘Zebra’ Can Land You in Court

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Every medical school student is taught that most diagnoses are more likely to involve common conditions and diseases than rare ones. Focus on the likeliest possibilities rather than the obscure ones. That makes good sense—except when the physician is confronted with a patient who may have one of 7000+ rare diseases listed by the National Institutes of Health, each disease affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the United States.medscape, When Missing a ‘Zebra’ Can Land You in Court, Mark Krane 2018

Together, rare diseases affect almost 30 million Americans or about 1 in 10 people. Globally, an estimated 350 million people have rare diseases.

Physicians are generally unlikely to face a malpractice suit for misdiagnosing a rare disease. However, even though a disease might be rare, the results of a delayed or wrong diagnosis can be devastating or lethal. Juries have awarded millions of dollars in cases involving both primary care physicians and specialists. The doctors and hospitals not only missed the right diagnosis but did too little to find out why the patient failed to improve after their early treatment.

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