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The Cost of Diagnostic Errors in Covid

Covid is a novel virus that catalysed a global pandemic. Since the first few confirmed cases in December 2019, the number of Covid cases spread rapidly over the world in a matter of months. The ordeal continued for the next two years with cities from across the globe forced to impose lockdowns to limit the spread of the virus.

Nearly three years later, health professionals are finally learning the lessons from the diagnostic errors in Covid and using that information to develop more effective methods and technologies to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Why Are Diagnostic Errors More Common and Costly?

According to John Hopkins researchers, diagnostic errors are the most common form of medical error in malpractice claim payouts. This fact is surprising to many, especially as one might think that medication overdose or surgical mistakes could be more prevalent. Diagnostic-related mistakes are more costly and have cost up to $38 billion in payouts since 1986.

The more serious issue that requires attention here is the fact that diagnostic errors resulted in permanent injury, even death, to some of the affected patients.

Diagnostic error is defined as any wrong diagnosis, missed, or delayed. Further testing can confirm what the earlier tests missed or failed to establish the findings. The harm inflicted on the patient is a result of the delay in getting treatment for the condition, or from the treatment that was intended for a condition that was not given.

One of the reasons why diagnostic errors are prevalent is due to the difficulty of measuring or identifying them. There is also a significant gap from the time that the misdiagnosis was delivered to the detection of such an error. But the most important challenge here is that more focus is given to addressing and correcting medical and surgical errors than diagnostic errors not being treated with the level of urgency they deserve.

The possibility that analysing medical diagnostic errors could open up more issues is a legitimate concern. It could be a more complex and diverse issue than it initially appears. Therefore, it will require a more concerted effort from medical experts if one were to devise a solution for it.

Current data on diagnostic errors revealed that errors are more common in outpatient care than in inpatient care. This data is based on the research study conducted by the National Practitioner Data Bank. While there are fewer diagnostic errors in inpatient care, the latter proved more lethal. Hence, it is important to identify the gaps and prevent errors in the future to limit casualties.

What is the Cost of Diagnostic Errors in Covid?

The health and medical effects of a diagnostic error are the most important area for consideration. However, you cannot talk in-depth about diagnostic errors in Covid without looking at the financial costs.

Experts have not been able to pinpoint the exact financial cost of diagnostic errors but estimate it to be around $100 billion annually. The potential cost of diagnostic errors could be higher than this knowing that the aforementioned estimate only accounts for US cases. The cost is invested in defensive medicine due to unnecessary tests performed on patients resulting from the misdiagnosis. Some of the other costs involved are lawsuits filed against health professionals and facilities due to the grave consequences of their diagnostic errors.

Ironically, more money must be invested in researching the factors resulting in diagnostic errors in the hope of preventing them from happening again.

Top Covid-Related Diagnostic Errors

When the first few cases of Covid were confirmed, diagnosis was a challenge. The main reason for the higher number of diagnostic errors was due to the similarity in symptoms of a few other known health conditions, especially respiratory conditions.

Other reasons for common diagnostic errors during Covid were the staff shortage, staff fatigue, and stressful work environments. When one or more of these factors are present, it significantly impacts the quality of the diagnostic results.

The best way to address common diagnostic errors is to differentiate common errors into various categories. The following are the common Covid-19 diagnostic errors:


  • Classic – A delayed or missed diagnosis in patients suffering from respiratory symptoms is the most common diagnostic error in Covid. The primary reason for this error is a lack of tests that distinguish the two conditions from each other.
  • Anchor – This is a different type of diagnostic error since the patient is presumed positive for Covid-19. Patients with Covid-19 symptoms but non-severe cases might not be properly diagnosed due to abuse of a reliable testing measure or comprehensive evaluation.
  • Acute Collateral – This type of diagnostic error is a result of delayed diagnosis. The acute condition occurs when the patient does not undergo testing for fear that they could contract the virus at diagnostic centres.
  • Strain – This diagnostic error is a case of missed or delayed diagnosis. This error occurs due to an overwhelmed healthcare system wherein patients are not given the appropriate level of care and medical attention. Overcrowding increases the risk of misdiagnosis and delayed care.
  • Anomalous – This diagnostic error occurs when the patient does not exhibit respiratory or Covid-related symptoms.
  • Secondary – This diagnostic error occurs when the patient is not diagnosed with a second condition as more focus is given to Covid-19 treatment.
  • Chronic Collateral – This diagnostic error occurs with ambulatory conditions resulting from cancelled appointments.
  • Unintended – This diagnostic error occurs due to the limitations of telemedicine or virtual consultations. The lack of the same diagnostic procedure as in-person screening results in the poor diagnostic result.

Final Thoughts

Diagnostic errors and challenges predate Covid-19. Even before the pandemic, there were already 12 million diagnostic errors annually. However, improving diagnostic measures bring a new sense of urgency. New technologies are available to healthcare providers and the industry to ensure better accuracy in diagnosis. These technologies ensure that healthcare professionals and providers can accurately use these tools to aid patients to better health through the proper treatment.