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Study finds misdiagnoses in outpatients prevalent

Every day, people throughout Pennsylvania go to the doctor because they are sick, injured or in need of a quick check-up. It is likely that the majority of these people assume and trust that their doctors know what they are doing. However, despite years of school and practice, doctors sometimes get it wrong. When this results in an undiagnosed or misdiagnosed condition, it can cause irreversible harm to the patient.

Unfortunately, misdiagnoses in outpatient settings are more common than people may realize. According to a recent study, more than 5 percent of all outpatient visits involve a misdiagnosis.

To get to this number, researchers studied thousands of medical records that were part of other studies to determine error rates. Comparing that to the number of adults who seek outpatient care annually, the researchers found that approximately 12 million people are victims of a misdiagnosis each year.

Although some misdiagnoses have little to no effect on patients, others can be extremely harmful. Imagine that a doctor failed to diagnose cancer in a patient. When it comes to cancer, acting quickly is extremely important, and a delay in treatment can be detrimental.

The researchers who conducted this study hope that their findings will bring awareness to the issue of outpatient misdiagnoses at a time when many hospitals are focused heavily on making inpatient treatment safer. We hope their efforts will prompt positive change.

In the meantime, however, if a patient is harmed because of a doctor's misdiagnosis, he or she has the right to seek compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Source: Reuters, "About 12 million U.S. outpatients misdiagnosed annually: study," Curtis Skinner, April 17, 2014

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