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What to Know About Misdiagnosis

September 06, 2016 by Laraine Kelley

When you go to the doctor or have to visit the emergency room, you expect that the health professionals with whom you interact will pay close attention to your symptoms and medical history in order to meet the expected standard of care. Unfortunately, The Washington Post reports that the reality is that many people’s visits fall short of those expectations. Every year, 12 million Americans who seek outpatient care have a delayed or wrong diagnosis, and misdiagnosis is the leading cause of medical malpractice claims in the United States. Learn what contributes to misdiagnosis and what you can do to improve your own safety in the doctor’s office.


What the facts show

Diagnostic error is a serious problem in the United States, but it is difficult to measure how serious it really is. Misdiagnosis accounts for up to 17% of poor outcomes in hospitals and one study found it to be a factor in one out of every ten patient deaths. However, not every death is analyzed so closely so these findings cannot be generalized. Only about 1% of those injured by medical negligence file a case. Additionally, reported claims of misdiagnosis are almost twice as likely to end in the patient’s death as claims for other medical errors.

What contributes to misdiagnosis?

One study of 200 cases of unexpected emergency room visits or return visits to the doctor found that faulty clinical encounters were to blame 80% of the time. Most of the problems in these encounters were caused by the interaction between patient and practitioner. During these interactions, 79% of what went wrong had to do with things like data gathering, physical examinations, and diagnostic tests—all routine parts of a doctor’s appointment. Copying and pasting previous progress notes in the electronic medical records was part of almost 36% of errors reported.

Keeping yourself safe

When you visit the doctor, there are certain things you can do to help prevent misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. As the doctor is speaking to you, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions if something doesn’t make sense. Ask your doctor what the differential diagnosis is and what the plan is for ruling possibilities out. It may be helpful for you to bring someone you trust to the appointment—having another person listening to the doctor and verifying information may eliminate confusion in the long run. Be your own advocate and protect yourself by listening carefully to what the doctor tells you, taking notes, and addressing your concerns and questions as they arise.

What to do next

If you or a loved one have been injured by a misdiagnosis, you are not alone and there is help. Call Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria; we will review your case free of charge.


This article does not purport to give legal advice and is for informational purposes only.

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