Misdiagnosis Can Be Fatal

Julie Shenkman
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There are a lot of things to worry about if you work in the medical field, but diagnostic errors are one of the most deadly. Medical misdiagnosis leads to unnecessary deaths and increases the cost of malpractice insurance for physicians, nurse practitioners and other medical professionals. Unfortunately, physicians make millions of diagnostic errors each year, putting patient safety at risk and forcing medical professionals to take drastic action.

A 2014 study published in BMJ Quality & Safety indicates errors occur at a rate of approximately one out of every 20 diagnoses. Paul Epner, chair of the Coalition to Improve Diagnosis, thinks the real number is much higher. He says medical misdiagnosis probably occurs in 10 percent of all diagnostic encounters. Although diagnosing someone with the wrong illness is possible, medical misdiagnosis also refers to delays in making the right diagnosis or failure to recognize the complications associated with a particular disease.

The most obvious concern related to medical misdiagnosis is its effects on patients. If a deadly disease is not diagnosed early enough, it has the potential to cause serious complications. Some patients even die due to diagnostic mistakes. If a pediatric patient is not diagnosed with a bowel obstruction right away, for example, there is a risk of death due to sepsis or cardiac arrest. Delayed diagnosis is dangerous for patients who rely on their physicians to make good medical decisions. Most cancers are fairly treatable when diagnosed early, but a diagnostic delay reduces the likelihood of survival.

Medical misdiagnosis is also a big problem for doctors and hospitals. Malpractice premiums are at an all-time high, making the practice of medicine less affordable for pediatricians and primary care providers who aren't paid as much as cardiologists, anesthesiologists and other specialists. When the media finds out about a medical error, the doctor's reputation suffers. Local residents may hesitate to go to that particular hospital in the event of an emergency. As a result, hospitals lose a lot of money due to medical misdiagnosis and other types of errors. Hospitals are even being penalized if they have high readmission rates, making diagnostic errors a serious problem in every community.

Epner says there are several reasons doctors make diagnostic errors in hospitals, clinics and other medical settings. Communication errors are always a possibility, especially if there is a language barrier between a doctor and patient. Having interpreters on hand is a good way to reduce the risk of errors caused by communication problems. Some doctors make medical errors because they have difficulty interpreting the results of imaging studies and laboratory tests. By working together, doctors, laboratory technicians, radiology technicians and other people in the medical field can reduce the risk of errors in their facilities.

Medical misdiagnosis is a serious issue for doctors, patients and hospitals. Epner says every hospital should pay close attention to diagnostic errors and regularly come up with new ways to prevent such blunders from occurring.

Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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  • Edna G.
    Edna G.

    It is good to remind us that we can do a better job as a good team player.

  • Jerry C.
    Jerry C.

    It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. Get a job Julie. Telling us that the sky is up is not helpful. Malpractice premiums are up because of the Medical Mass Tort Industry. Look at the ads on TV. The Legal system is corrupt and ruled by corrupt lawyers and judges.

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