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Misdiagnoses may be more common than people think

With technological and scientific advances being made regularly, patients often expect medical diagnoses to be more accurate than ever. Unfortunately, doctors can fail to diagnose correctly, often leading to physical, financial, and emotional trauma.

Misdiagnoses, including failure to diagnose cancer, happen more frequently than many other types of medical errors, such as wrong site surgery or drug errors. In fact, according to one study, the number of diagnostic errors that happen in intensive care units is equal to the number of lives claimed by breast cancer each year.

These statistics became a reality for one North Carolina woman who suffered from extreme fatigue and debilitating back pain. After over 50 visits to a number of different doctors, she was labeled with fibromyalgia and psychiatric problems. Almost three years later, she was informed that her true diagnosis was breast cancer that had metastasized to her spine.

Oncologists gave her a terminal prognosis, with a life expectancy of three years due to her Stage IV breast cancer. She believes that had doctors not failed to diagnose her when she first began experiencing symptoms, she could have had at least 10 additional years to live. Failure to diagnose robbed her of timely treatment.

Doctors may not even know that they have failed to diagnose a patient correctly if patients seek treatment elsewhere. Unlike drug errors or surgical mistakes, there is no single definite solution to misdiagnoses. Therefore, the legal system has an important role to play in this epidemic of medical errors, holding physicians responsible for their actions as well as their failure to act.

Source: Kaiser Health News, "Doctors' Errors: They Happen More Than You Think (And Can Hurt You)," Sandra G. Boodman, May 7, 2013

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