Medical Misdiagnosis Harms 6M Outpatients Per Year: Report

An estimated six million Americans are harmed by outpatient misdiagnosis errors each year, according to researchers from Veterans Affairs in Texas.  

In a study published in the medical journal BMJ Quality & Safety on April 17, researchers found that about 12 million people who go into medical facilities each year for outpatient care receive a medical misdiagnosis. The researchers further found that about half of those outpatient diagnosis errors result in actual harm to patients.

The findings were determined by looking at data from two previous studies on unusual patterns of return visits by patients after a primary care visit or lack of follow-up of abnormal clinical findings related to colorectal cancer, both of which are suggestive of diagnostic errors. The researchers also looked at data on consecutive cases of lung cancer.

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They found that the rate of misdiagnosis is about 5.08%, or about one out of every 20 people who have an outpatient visit.

Misdiagnosis harm can take the form of missed diagnosis of serious ailments and diseases, which can mean delays in crucial treatment that could affect both quality of life and the chances of survival. A misdiagnosis can also lead to patients being treated for the wrong problem, resulting in unnecessary exposure to drug side effects, radiation from various medical scans, and even unnecessary surgery that could miss the actual problem or exacerbate it.

“In all three studies, diagnostic errors were confirmed through chart review and defined as missed opportunities to make a timely or correct diagnosis based on available evidence,” according to the researchers. “This foundational evidence should encourage policymakers, healthcare organizations and researchers to start measuring and reducing diagnostic errors.”

A study published in the same journal about a year ago found that medical misdiagnosis lawsuits account for more malpractice payments than any other type of complaint. According to that study, more than a third of all money paid for medical malpractice through verdicts and settlements was because of a misdiagnosis claim.

Researchers found that medical misdiagnosis claims were more likely than any other type of malpractice lawsuit to involve the death of a patient.


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