While the American medical community diagnoses and treats millions of patients every year, studies show that patients are misdiagnosed at an alarming rate. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, the prevalence of medical misdiagnosis in the U.S. is 10 to 20 percent, which exceeds the occurrence of errors involving operating on the wrong body part and drug errors. Medical misdiagnosis may result in patient trauma, lifelong disabilities and even death.
A 4-year-old girl in Oregon recently died when a hospital misdiagnosed her condition and turned her away for medical help. The NY Daily News report explained that the young girl had acquired a toxic form of E. coli and her health was rapidly deteriorating. After being misdiagnosed with rotavirus and then told that she was E. coli negative, the girl was taken to a hospital 50 miles away where the correct diagnosis was made. By that time she was experiencing kidney failure, suffered a stroke and passed away. Unfortunately, these stories are all too common.
Finding a cause
According to Kaiser Health News, finding reasons to account for the dramatic rate of doctor error is difficult. Some believe that physicians have developed flawed thought processes, which are the result of the increasing complexity of the medical industry. Others point to the overwhelming time constraints placed on physicians, limiting their ability to spend much-needed time with their patients in order to develop an accurate diagnosis. The news report states that misdiagnoses are more likely to take place in an emergency room setting, where the attending physicians have little to no knowledge of the patient’s medical history.
Another reason for the staggering number of wrongful diagnoses may be the replacement of traditional, hands-on medical care with the high-tech, digital tests of today. Although innovative software intends to boost the accuracy of doctors’ diagnoses, some argue that these new methods are not infallible.
Reporting the problem
Studies show that many medical misdiagnoses go unreported, making it hard to actually grasp the full extent of the problem. Patients who are not satisfied with a doctor’s diagnosis may simply switch to another doctor, leaving the primary physician unaware of any wrongdoing. In some cases, it may take years or decades for the misdiagnosis to present itself as a medical error, leading to delayed medical treatment. Some physicians may avoid reporting errors in an attempt to maintain their reputation in a highly competitive medical field. Due to these reasons and other extenuating circumstances, the majority of misdiagnosis cases do not result in malpractice litigation.
People who are active participants in their health care and make an effort to be consciously aware of their medical treatment may be able to spot a medical misdiagnosis early on, and find the care they need to minimize its impact on their lives.