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Diagnostic errors are far more common than people think

There are many types of medical mistakes, from administrative errors to surgical mistakes. While the patient safety movement has focused largely on hospital negligence, little has been said about primary care doctors. Maryland readers may be interested to learn that primary care doctors may pose the same risks as hospitals.

Surprisingly, a recent study suggests that medical mistakes, such as the failure to diagnose a stroke or the misdiagnosis of cancer, are far more common among primary care physicians than researchers had previously thought. The Journal of the American Medical Association study suggests that medical errors are widespread in primary care settings, and other non-hospital settings. Among the leading causes researchers identified, the study found that many primary care doctors often made critical mistakes or missed critical steps during the diagnostic process.

The majority of the medical and diagnostic errors that the researchers identified in the study could have been avoided if the patients were properly examined, or if accurate medical histories were taken at the start. Among the very serious medical conditions that primary care doctors overlooked in the study were pneumonia, cancer, congestive heart failure and others. Each of these conditions could prove fatal, and, in many cases, time is of the essence.

Patients trust doctors with their lives, and, in turn, doctors are compensated handsomely. That is why it is so frustrating when doctors fail us. While many diagnostic errors may seem trivial, when time is of the essence, an error can be fatal. In such cases, it is important to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions. A busy schedule is no excuse for failing to provide each and every patient with the care and attention that they deserve.

Source: The Post-Standard, "Study shows docs often fail to detect pneumonia and other serious conditions during exams," James T. Mulder, Feb. 26, 2013.

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