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Doctors misdiagnose millions of people every year

It may be distressing for residents of North Carolina to hear that doctors misdiagnose one out of every 20 adults every year. This figure was estimated in a study conducted at the Houston-based Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety.

The researchers conducting the study reviewed medical records and used information from doctors' clinic visits to determine if patients received misdiagnoses. In one analysis, they looked at information from patients who returned to their doctors unexpectedly after having initial visits, indicating that their doctors missed something. In another analysis, the researchers looked for instances where doctors did not investigate red flags in a sample of colon and lung cancer cases.

Considering that around 80 percent of adults go to the doctor every year, the researchers concluded that about one in 20 adults, or 12 million, could be receiving misdiagnoses each year. The researchers found in a prior study that about 50 percent of all diagnosis errors lead to serious harm. Based on the two studies, 6 million adults who receive a misdiagnosis may ultimately be diagnosed with a serious condition.

This research did not include recorded hospital errors or medical malpractice claims. The researchers also say that it is likely that their study did not include all types of misdiagnoses. This may mean that the rate of diagnosis errors is higher than they estimate.

Patients who are ultimately diagnosed with a serious condition, such as colon or lung cancer, because their doctors failed to diagnose the condition through early testing could file medical malpractice claims against their providers. If the patients are awarded damages, they could recover the cost of their medical treatment and lost earnings. They may also be entitled to receive compensation for any pain and suffering resulting from the misdiagnoses.

Source: Mother Nature Network, "12 million misdiagnoses occur yearly in U.S.", Rachael Rettner, April 17, 2014

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