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When you feel unexplained pain, develop a chronic cough or notice a lump, you may go to an urgent care center or the emergency room. Despite the severity of your condition, in all cases you expect a doctor to identify the issue and provide appropriate treatment.

Unfortunately, over 12 million adults receiving outpatient care will be misdiagnosed each year, according BMJ Quality & Safety. Based on the number of individuals seeking care, this amounts to one in every 20.

The researchers found that half of all errors will cause the patient harm. One-third of cases may be fatal or result in permanent damage if the patient does not receive proper medical attention.

About 160,000 individuals are misdiagnosed each year. Another 40,000 to 80,000 die from related complications. Of all demographics, women and minorities have a higher rate of misdiagnosis. As no standard reporting system exists in the United States for recording and keeping track of medical misdiagnosis, the number of total cases is likely higher.

Types of Medical Misdiagnosis

doctor consulting patientAccording to a study from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, incorrect diagnosis is the top cause of error-based malpractice claims and is behind $1.8 billion in settlements over the past 10 years. Yet not all forms of medical misdiagnosis are identical:

  • Misdiagnosis: A doctor diagnoses a patient with the incorrect medical condition. The patient then goes on to receive ineffective, if not harmful treatment. Through a second opinion, the patient may eventually receive the correct diagnosis.
  • Missed Diagnosis: In these instances, the doctor downplays the patient’s medical condition. Common scenarios include diagnosing a lump as benign when it’s actually cancerous or dismissing a patient’s symptoms as “in their head”.

What Can Occur

In both instances of medical misdiagnosis, the following circumstances can arise:

  • A patient begins treatment that has no effect or does not receive appropriate care. The condition continues to worsen, resulting in permanent disability or death.
  • A patient who notices their condition worsening may bring it to the attention of their doctor or seek a second opinion. Yet doing so may result in a dismissal of their symptoms.
  • Symptoms start to worsen over time and the condition becomes more apparent. Your doctor may look more closely at each symptom but still arrive at an incorrect diagnosis.
  • Although treatment may offer some relief, a patient may still not get better. In the process, they’re taking medications or undergoing unnecessary procedures that make no impact and require additional, unnecessary costs.

Commonly Misdiagnosed Conditions

After examining 55,000 malpractice claims, the Johns Hopkins researchers found that the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions are:

  • Cancer, particularly lung, skin, breast and prostate (37.8 percent).
  • Vascular condition, including strokes, heart attacks and blood clots (22.8 percent).
  • Infection, particularly sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia (13.5 percent).

Beyond these issues, research has shown that a diagnosis is frequently missed for glaucoma, sleep apnea and ovarian cancer due to an absence or misinterpretation of symptoms. A 2012 JAMA study found that patients with a cough, shortness of breath or abdominal pain have a higher chance of misdiagnosis.

Why Medical Misdiagnosis Occurs

Several factors increase the chance of misdiagnosis:

  • Issues with ordering diagnostic tests or suggesting the wrong ones.
  • The doctor does not have the patient’s complete medical history, an issue arising more frequently in clinic and emergency room settings.
  • Test results are misinterpreted.
  • The doctor does not listen to or thoroughly examine a patient during an appointment.
  • The doctor orders tests but never follows up on the results, so patients assume all is fine.
  • A doctor dismisses a more complicated condition as something simple or routine – for instance, a patient may be diagnosed with the flu when they have Lyme disease.

Patients count on medical professionals to make the right decisions about their health. Negligence during this process can have permanent, if not fatal, ramifications. If you’ve experienced medical misdiagnosis, only to have the underlying condition worsen over time, bring your claim to Trantolo & Trantolo today.