According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), approximately one in 20 adults seeking outpatient care will receive delayed, wrong, or missed diagnosis each year. It accounts for about five percent of all patients seen annually. Though not a large number overall, over time, those numbers begin to add up. In fact, the IOM estimates that the majority of Americans will eventually experience a diagnostic error at some point in their lives. This small percentage also happens to account for 10 percent of all patient deaths.
The real problem is not necessarily that doctors misdiagnose (although this is certainly an issue); it is that, once a diagnosis is made, the doctor stops looking for one. This leads to improper treatment that, in some cases, may contraindicate with the treatment needed for the actual condition. It also leaves the actual condition untreated and, over time, that can become lethal. This can be especially true when looking at the five most commonly misdiagnosed conditions.
When most people think of a heart attack, their mind typically turns to symptoms that include chest pain and left arm pain. However, heart attacks do not present the same in all people. In fact, studies show that most women experience more minor, more difficult to interpret symptoms when suffering from a heart attack, such as fatigue, nausea, cold sweats, and dizziness—all symptoms that can be interpreted as either the flu or menopause.
African Americans are also at an increased risk of misdiagnosis, despite their increased risk of having a heart attack at some point in their life. This is due, not only to the sometimes hazy symptoms of a heart attack but also because many do not show evidence of heart disease on angiograms—the most frequently used tests to determine if heart disease is present.
Pulmonary embolism, which is also a vascular disease, happens when blood clots form and then travel through the bloodstream to the lungs. With symptoms very similar to those of a chest cold, asthma, or pneumonia—coughing, chest pain, and wheezing—it also happens to account for 4.5 percent of diagnostic errors. Part of this problem is due to the battery of tests that must be performed to diagnose a pulmonary embolism, any of which could provide a false negative or be missed altogether.
Stroke symptoms, which can include weakness, poor coordination, confusion, or difficulty speaking, often occur suddenly. However, there are many individuals that may have a slow onset, which can make diagnosis difficult. Additionally, some of the symptoms are similar to that of migraines. Because of this, stroke diagnoses are likely to be late or missed in approximately nine percent of all cases.
Cancer, in and of itself, can be evasive and difficult to diagnose. Often, the symptoms are similar to other, less serious conditions, and it can often go undetected for long periods of time. This is especially true for lung, breast, and colorectal cancers, which accounted for approximately 10 percent of all physician-reported errors in the Journal of the American Medical Association published study. Unfortunately, the speed at which a diagnosis comes can sometimes mean the difference between survival and death.
Drug Intoxication or Overdose
On one hand, a diagnostic error involving drug intoxication or overdose makes sense—not all patients are forthcoming when they are taking non-prescribed drugs. However, there are other reasons that physicians may fail to effective diagnose this condition, including the fact that many of the patients using the types drugs most typically seen in intoxication or overdose (OxyCotin, Vicodin, or Percocet) are often prescribed to older patients with chronic conditions. Add in the fact that opioid painkiller prescriptions have risen sharply over the last couple of decades, and it is easy to see why the deaths from intoxication and overdose have more than quadrupled since 1999.
Decreasing Your Risk of Diagnostic Error
While diagnosis is ultimately up to your doctor, there are ways that you can reduce your risk of a diagnostic error or improve the rate at which you are diagnosed. Keep track of your symptoms and always provide the severity and time of onset. Share any and all substances you are using with your physician. Ask how to follow up on abnormal tests. Ask how long it will take for medication to work. And, if all else fails, get a second opinion. After all, you know your body better than anyone; if something feels “off,” then it probably is.
Victim of a Diagnostic Error? Seek Help from a Qualified Attorney
Even if you use all the safeguards, and even if you seek out a second or third opinion, a diagnostic error can happen. Often, this can lead to unnecessary and excessive medical care costs. In the worst of scenarios, it can even result in wrongful death. If this has happened to you or someone you love, you may be entitled to compensation. However, it is vital that you seek qualified professional help.
Hurley, McKenna & Mertz, P.C. can help. With more than 75 years of experience, we help protect the rights of medical malpractice victims, and we provide them with aggressive representation in the pursuit of justice. To learn how we may be able to help with your case, contact our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys for a free initial consultation. Call [[phone]] today.