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Misdiagnoses and your health: What every patient needs to know

Medical MalpracticeNews   April 22, 2019

What’s your biggest worry when you’re sick enough to head to the hospital or take a troublesome symptom to your doctor? For many, it’s that they’ll be given some kind of terrible diagnosis.

In reality, people should be worried that they won’t receive a proper diagnosis at all. Instead, they may be told their condition is nothing serious and be sent home or given a diagnosis that’s way off track. Alternatively, they may get treated for the wrong ailment entirely.

Two different studies recently demonstrated just how much misdiagnoses factor in medical malpractice claims. One report by malpractice insurer The Doctors Company reviewed malpractice claims involving pediatric cases between 2008 and 2017. They found that 38 percent were attributed to misdiagnoses.

The second study, by malpractice insurer Coverys, focused on claims closed between 2013 and 2017. In its analysis, 46 percent of those claims were due to misdiagnoses. Even worse, Coverys found that 45 percent of the victims of misdiagnosis in its closed malpractice claims had died.

These aren’t the first studies to blame misdiagnoses for large percentages of patient injuries and deaths. A 2015 National Academy of Medicine study called diagnostic errors the third-leading cause of death in hospitals. In 2017, research by the University of Michigan said that 22 percent of hospital malpractice claims involved misdiagnoses.

For patients, this is alarming news.

The number one cause of misdiagnosis is an inadequate medical assessment. To make sure that your doctor considers all possibilities, list all your symptoms carefully. If you’re concerned about anything specific, don’t be afraid to question how a doctor is ruling out a condition. For example, if you’re worried your chest pain is a heart attack but the emergency room doctor says it is simply indigestion, ask the doctor how he or she has ruled out the heart attack.

If you’re told a condition isn’t serious and sent home from the hospital, don’t be afraid to go back if your condition worsens. If necessary, take someone with you so that person can back you up as you assert your right to proper medical care.

Missed and incorrect diagnoses are a serious problem in the American health care system. If you have been injured or a loved one died due to medical errors, it may be time to learn more about your options for recovery.