Dermatologic misdiagnoses more common for skin of color

On Behalf of | Apr 3, 2020 | Medical Malpractice

The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology has published the results of a study that should be of interest to anyone in Houston who has darker color skin. It turns out that those whose skin phototype is on the Fitzpatrick scale of IV to VI (from light brown to dark brown or black) are more likely to have a skin disorder incorrectly diagnosed.

A quiz for medical students

As part of the study, 177 dermatology students from the Tulane University School of Medicine and the University of Oklahoma’s College of Medicine took a multiple-choice quiz where they had to diagnose skin disorders based on photos and brief descriptions. Analysts then determined the percentage of correct diagnoses for patients with Fitzpatrick I-III skin phototypes and those with Fitzpatrick IV-VI phototypes.

Skin color created disparities

Most pre-clinical and clinical medical students could correctly diagnose herpes zoster (83.1%), psoriasis (81.9%) and atopic dermatitis (80.2%) across all skin phototypes. Verruca vulgaris (26.6%), contact dermatitis (30.5%) and squamous cell carcinoma (30.5%) were the most commonly missed.

Here is where the disparities were found. Squamous cell carcinoma was correctly diagnosed in 45.6% of patients with lighter skin but only in 14.9% of patients with darker skin. The disparity was also found in diagnoses of urticaria (57.5% for Fitzpatrick IV-VI patients as opposed to 82.2% for Fitzpatrick I-III patients) and atopic dermatitis (74.4% vs. 86.2%).

Dark pigment linked with melanoma

Around 34% of the students, perhaps relying too heavily on dark pigment as a sign of melanoma, mistook squamous cell carcinoma for this other cancer. On the other hand, students correctly diagnosed the skin infection known as tinea versicolor in those patients with darker skin.

Lawyer for medical malpractice claims

Let’s say that you had a skin condition misdiagnosed and that it got worse over time, resulting in irreparable harm. If there is evidence that the doctor who diagnosed you was not living up to an objective standard of care, then you may have grounds for a medical malpractice case. With a lawyer to provide assistance, you may seek reimbursement for your medical expenses and other losses.