Mistakes with diagnosing patients can put them in harm's way

Patients who go to the doctor expect that they will get an accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen. One study that was published in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice shows that more than 20 percent of people who have a serious medical condition were initially misdiagnosed. This mean that there are patients who aren't getting the treatment they need to address their health problems. In some cases, such as with cancer, this leaves the condition to worsen.

This study looked at patients who sought a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic. Of the cases studied, only 12 percent of people had gotten an accurate initial diagnosis by their primary care physician. Some others had a diagnosis that was in line with the Mayo Clinic's finding but not an exact match.

The challenge

One doctor notes that there is a huge challenge present in diagnosing patients. There are 200 to 300 symptoms that patients might have, but there are upwards of 10,000 possible diseases that providers have to consider. Diagnostic errors can lead to around 10 percent of deaths of patients. When you consider adverse events in a hospital, diagnosing errors can account for anywhere from 6 to 17 percent.

The prevalence of diagnostic errors is one of the primary reasons why patients who are facing a serious medical issue and those who have persistent symptoms might opt to get a second opinion. This isn't saying that they don't believe their primary care physician. Instead, it is a way that they can find out what more they can do to improve their health condition.

Patient harm

Patient harm can occur when they don't have the correct diagnosis quickly. In the most severe cases, the patient might end up dying. Think about how much damage can be done to a person who is having a heart attack but isn't treated swiftly and correctly in the emergency room. Consider how much people's health can suffer if they have cancer that is left to spread and worsen because a doctor didn't make a correct diagnosis right away.

Patients who do have negative health effects due to an inaccurate initial diagnosis may incur more medical bills. They may ultimately choose to seek compensation based on the circumstances that led to the error with the diagnosis.

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