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Misdiagnosis affects millions of Americans, sometimes critically

Doctors are human and make mistakes; unfortunately, that often means adverse outcomes for patients. The issue of medical malpractice involving misdiagnosis is serious. With emergency care, the question of a proper diagnosis can be a matter of life and death. If doctors send a patient home with an improper diagnosis, their condition can worsen considerably, and in some cases, they may die before return to the hospital.

However, misdiagnosis is a problem beyond hospital emergency departments. The visit to a doctor at their office or at a medical clinic can be equally dangerous for the patient. A study has found up to 12 million people may be misdiagnosed in this setting and almost half could result in "severe patient harm."

The research involved an examination of three prior studies, which created a pool of 3,000 medical records. The researchers found 5 percent of this sample suffered from a misdiagnosis. They then extrapolated this percent to the number of Americans who visit a doctors' office or clinic in the course of a year for outpatient treatment.

The effects of a misdiagnosis are wide ranging, from delaying the correct treatment and leaving the patient in varying degrees of pain or discomfort to catastrophic, when diseases like cancer or something like a ruptured appendix (peritonitis) is missed and it progresses to the point where it is too advanced to save the patient's health or life.

There is an added cost to the healthcare system, both of the wasted treatment and the increased cost of the correct treatment. There is also the cost of medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits that follow the botched treatment.

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

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