Misdiagnosis: Commonplace in the United States
According to a study of the U.S. population in the British Medical Journal’s Quality & Safety publication, the number of adult outpatients misdiagnosed each year is both underreported… and estimated to be more than 5%. That’s one out of every twenty patients in the United States. In no fewer than half of those cases, the misdiagnoses led to serious health consequences, such as the advancement of a disease like cancer, or death.
These are just the statistics for outpatients – patients who were not hospitalized at the time of diagnosis. According to Dr. Elizabeth Burton, director of autopsy pathology at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, combining the numbers of outpatients and inpatients shows an overall misdiagnosis rate of approximately 40%, with 10% to 12% of those failures leading to loss of life.
Misdiagnosis Versus Missed Diagnosis
Misdiagnosis is diagnosing a patient with the wrong medical condition. Missed diagnosis is failing to diagnose a condition when specific symptoms present, also called a “failure to diagnose.” Regardless, precious time is lost if the patient is not immediately treated for the correct condition. Depending on how the patient behaves, some symptoms may be ignored or considered to be an emotional problem. An example of this type of medical error is when a heart attack is misdiagnosed as a stress-related panic attack.
Since all subsequent aspects of care—medications, surgeries, and other treatments—will be based on the initial diagnosis, a misdiagnosis will not improve the health of a patient. In the least dangerous scenario, subsequent treatment doesn’t worsen the patient’s complaint. In severe cases, the treatment may injure the patient: the wrong medication can exacerbate a condition or cause dangerous side effects; unnecessary surgery could lead to a further deterioration of the patient’s health.
Precipitating Factors in Misdiagnosis
Physicians need to gather all relevant data to make an accurate diagnosis, including the patient’s medical history and the results of any tests performed elsewhere. Gathering the data has become more challenging as doctors, particularly those working with HMOs, are being forced to limit the time they spend with each patient.
A doctor may select the wrong tests or an insufficient number of tests to differentiate the patient’s complaint from a condition with similar symptoms. Sometimes, the tests are performed correctly, but the results are misinterpreted. According to a survey of medical malpractice claims conducted by Coverys, errors related to lab testing accounted for more than half of the claims filed, and 14% were filed against radiologists.
Be Your Own Advocate
Serious, life-threatening diseases are some of the most commonly misdiagnosed. These include:
- Heart attack
How can you help protect yourself? We have some encouragement:
- While it may not be easy, one of the best ways is to insist that your physician spend adequate time with you so you can thoroughly explain your symptoms and present a complete medical history, including your family’s history of illnesses. Your physician can then order a range of tests that are more likely to lead to a correct diagnosis.
- When diagnosed, you can ask your physician what else your symptoms could indicate. This may cause the physician to consider other possibilities.
- Get a second opinion. If your symptoms are not improving or are getting worse, seek another physician.
- If your condition is not improving, request a referral to a specialist. A specialist will be in a better position to determine whether the initial diagnosis is accurate.
What to Do If You Feel You Were Misdiagnosed
If you suspect your condition was misdiagnosed, contact our Denver medical malpractice lawyers at Leventhal & Puga, P.C. Founded in 1981, our firm is responsible for record-breaking cases, and has received the two highest medical malpractice verdicts in the state of Colorado. Our trial attorneys are licensed in multiple states and represent people from most areas of the country.
At Leventhal & Puga, P.C., we take cases on a contingency-fee basis. We represent a limited number of clients so we can devote all the time necessary to each person we serve. No matter where you live, if you or a loved one was misdiagnosed and suffered severe or fatal health consequences, contact our firm at (303) 759-9945 or toll-free (877) 433-3906 for a no-cost consultation. Seek experienced legal counsel to discuss filing a claim against the negligent doctor, facility, or other liable parties.