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Failure to diagnose cases haunt millions of US patients

Diagnosis is the key to treating and potentially curing an individual of an injury, illness or disease. For this reason, a simple error during diagnosis can be harmful to a patient. Whether or not that error is a failure to diagnose, a misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis, a medical mistake has occurred to threaten the life or health of a patient.

According to the journal BMJ Quality and Safety, every year misdiagnoses harm many Americans, including Maryland residents. The study's authors estimate that around 12 million adults who undergo outpatient care are victimized by misdiagnoses. This means one out of every 20 adult patients potentially suffers harm. Unfortunately, half of all misdiagnoses have the potential to harm or worsen a patient's health. Such cases of misdiagnosis often happen in doctor's offices and outpatient clinics.

The reported study evaluated the data from three prior studies that discussed follow-up visits and diagnoses. One study examined the rates of misdiagnosis in primary care settings and the other two studies reviewed the number of lung cancer screenings and follow-up diagnoses. Statistical analysis of the data showed researchers that nearly one-half of all diagnostic errors are potentially harmful to patients.

Although it is not really known how many patients have been harmed by misdiagnoses, the researchers believed that the risks may affect nearly six million outpatients per year. A 2012 study that was reported in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that the most common cause of misdiagnosis is the failure of a patient to provide an accurate portrait of the person's medical history and misinterpretation of diagnostic test results.

As a result, the study's authors suggest that doctors should take their time when conducting patient exams and listen to their patients. Doctors should also consider patients' family medical histories when making their diagnoses.

Source: CBS News, "12 million Americans misdiagnosed each year," Accessed on Oct. 16, 2014

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