Almost 12 Million Americans Get Wrong Diagnosis from Doctors By Tod Aronovitz | 04/29/14 | 0 Comment

Some disconcerting news has been reported about the rate of misdiagnosis in the United States. According to a new study published in British medical journal “BMJ Quality and Safety,” approximately one in 20 U.S. adults who visit their doctors’ offices or other outpatient settings receives a misdiagnosis.

That’s about 12 million people who are affected by these mistakes, a Texas-based team of researchers found.  However, more troubling is that almost half—or 6 million—of these misdiagnoses may lead to serious harm, says lead author Dr. Hardeep Singh, a patient safety researcher at the Veterans Affairs Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety (IQuESt) at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, also in Houston.

Singh, who is the first to ascertain robust population-level data on the impact of the problem in outpatient settings, found that patients with conditions as wide-ranging as heart failure, pneumonia, anemia and lung cancer could have serious problems that continue to be untreated or incorrectly treated by a doctor.

According to IQuEST, Dr. Singh and his colleagues examined outpatient misdiagnosis rates from hundreds of medical records that were included in three prior studies: one study of patients in a primary care setting, and two others that included rates of misdiagnosis among lung cancer and colon cancer patients.

Dr. Singh defined a misdiagnosis as “…a definite missed opportunity to make a timelier, correct diagnosis based on information available at that time.”

Their analysis found that a wrong diagnosis was made in a little more than 5 percent of the cases, which adds up to 12 million people when extrapolated to the 80 percent of U.S. adults that receive outpatient care annually.

Researchers added that faulty medical records and other potential flaws in the data suggest that the error rate is even higher.

Singh attributes misdiagnoses to a variety of reasons including doctors’ limited time with patients, complex symptoms, the lack of physician support, and technical errors in a “fairly chaotic outpatient environment.”

With a clearer sense of the issue at hand, Singh hopes the research results will further promote finding solutions by patient advocates, healthcare organizations and lawmakers.

The study serves as a reminder to patients to be meticulous and take charge of their health.  They should provide doctors with a complete list of symptoms and a full health history at the first visit and be proactive about following up.  As the study found, the doctor is not always right. If something doesn’t seem right, schedule another visit or get a second opinion.

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