A study published in the BMJ Quality & Safety journal has uncovered a startling statistic about America’s healthcare system. Each year, physicians misdiagnose more than 12 million adults. That is nearly 1 in 20 patients.  Misdiagnosis can result in serious complications, including infection and even death. The study looked only at outpatient settings – and did not take into account the millions that are misdiagnosed in emergency rooms and hospitals across the country every year. Depending on the circumstances, a missed or mistaken diagnosis can constitute medical malpractice.

This issue is more serious than many Americans realize. After all, a misdiagnosis by a primary care physician or other doctor could result in the worsening of an infection or disease, making it much harder to treat. For example, pneumonia that is misdiagnosed as a respiratory virus may progress to the point where the patient’s life is in danger. As a result, the patient may be hospitalized and placed on a breathing machine, which can cause permanent lung damage and even death.

What are the common reasons for misdiagnosis?

A separate 2012 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine (subscription required) found that the most common reasons for misdiagnosis were:

  • Failure to order appropriate diagnostic tests
  • Failure by the patient to provide accurate medical history
  • Errors made in interpreting the medical test results

What types of symptoms do doctors frequently miss or misdiagnose?

Cough, abdominal pain, and shortness of breath were the top three symptoms that went misdiagnosed – and it is easy to see why. So many conditions start with a cough or abdominal pain, and knowing which are innocent and which are to be taken seriously can be difficult.  When doctors are already harried and busy, these symptoms can easily be overlooked.

How can you avoid being misdiagnosed?

Patients need to take an active role in their healthcare. This includes following up with doctors regarding lab results, x-rays, and other medical test results.  Never assume that your doctor will call you if something is wrong. No news is not necessarily good news.

As a patient, you should also feel empowered to call your physician with questions and make follow up appointments if you sense that something is wrong. If you don’t believe that your doctor is taking your fears or concerns seriously, don’t hesitate to seek alternative medical care. And if you receive a poor diagnosis or think your doctor has missed something serious, always seek a second medical opinion.

The attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Medical Malpractice Group have represented patients and families injured as a result of misdiagnosis. If you have questions regarding your medical treatment and your right to compensation, please contact us today.

Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller

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Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller

Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller represents injury victims in personal injury and medical malpractice claims. She also represents individuals in cases against those who have committed horrific acts of sexual assault.