Physicians Misdiagnose at an Alarming Rate

May 8, 2013

Misdiagnosis by physicians is a serious and common occurrence in the health industry. The repercussions of a misdiagnosis can damage a patient's health and cost money, or even a life. The prevalence of misdiagnosis is shocking, says Kaiser Health News.

  • An estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of cases are misdiagnosed, which exceeds drug errors and surgery on the wrong patient or body part, both of which receive considerably more attention.
  • One report found that 28 percent of 583 diagnostic mistakes were life threatening or had resulted in death or permanent disability.
  • Another study estimated that fatal diagnostic errors in U.S. intensive care units equal the number of breast cancer deaths each year -- 40,500.

According to doctors, misdiagnosis has occurred for quite some time. As far back as 1991, Harvard University found that misdiagnosis accounted for 14 percent of all adverse events and that 75 percent of these errors involved negligence.

  • While the first diagnosis may not be the correct diagnosis, hospitals could still earn performance incentives for the "correct" diagnosis of its patients.
  • The reality is that fixing diagnostic errors will be challenging given that arriving upon a medical diagnosis is a complicated and multifaceted procedure.
  • Many doctors who make a misdiagnosis are unaware that they have made a misdiagnosis because patients simply seek another opinion or do not find out until years later.

While diagnostic errors are the leading cause of malpractice litigation, the vast majority of errors do not result in legal action. Because many go unreported, it is difficult to gather detailed data on how prevalent misdiagnosis is. A recent study on the Veterans Administration hospital system in Texas estimated that there are at least 500,000 missed diagnostic opportunities that occur out of the 500 million primary care visits that occur annually in the United States.

  • A survey found that 96 percent of physicians felt that diagnostic errors are preventable while half said they encountered at least one per month.
  • Despite these statistics, many doctors are reluctant to report diagnostic errors, even anonymously, despite the likelihood of moderate to severe harm on the patient.

Source: Sandra Boodman, "Doctors' Diagnostic Errors Are Often Not Mentioned But Can Take a Serious Toll," Kaiser Health News, May 6, 2013.

 

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