Study finds physicians fail to diagnose at surprising rate

Medical misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose are major forms of medical malpractice that affect people across the country.

Whether people are feeling under the weather or suspect that they are suffering from a more chronic condition, they may visit an outpatient clinic, emergency room or their family physician for a diagnosis. People in Pennsylvania and across the country trust that their health care professionals will be able to successfully evaluate their condition and offer an effective treatment plan. However, studies show that the rate at which physicians and other medical professionals provide the wrong diagnosis or fail to give a diagnosis at all is surprisingly high.

The study

A study published in the medical journal, BMJ Quality and Safety found that more than one in 20 patients who visit an outpatient clinic or emergency room looking for medical care are misdiagnosed. This equates to approximately 12 million people in the nation annually. At least half of the patients, who are given the wrong diagnosis or not given a diagnosis at all, may be seriously harmed by medical negligence. Although this number seems high, the actual cases of improper diagnosis are thought to be much higher. A number of cases involving misdiagnosis go undetected or unreported, making this problem even more alarming.

Factors that lead to misdiagnosis

There are several factors that can increase the risk of a misdiagnosis. Physicians in outpatient clinics may be rushed to see a large number of people and may not spend a sufficient amount of time with each patient. Furthermore, physicians in these types of settings may not have access to each patient's complete medical history. If the patient does not provide their full medical history, including family history, current medications and reoccurring symptoms, the doctor may have trouble finding an accurate diagnosis.

Physician error is also to blame for diagnostic errors. A doctor may order the wrong type of screening test or misread the results of the test altogether. For example, a test that shows cloudiness in a patient's lungs could be read as pneumonia when in all actuality, it could be a cancerous mass.

Implications of diagnostic errors

When a patient is misdiagnosed, they may be started on a therapy to treat a condition that they don't have. For instance, a patient may be given medication to treat high blood pressure, seizures or other serious medical conditions when they don't actually need those drugs. This can cause unwanted and potentially harmful side effects. In a more extreme case, a patient may undergo an unnecessary surgical procedure.

Protecting your rights

If you have been victimized by medical malpractice, you should keep in mind that you have rights and various legal options that could lead to financial compensation. An attorney in Pennsylvania may help to answer your questions and look at all of your possible routes of action.