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Misdiagnosis is a bigger problem than previously expected

For many people in the District of Columbia and around the nation, going to the emergency room is a last resort when something is wrong that can't wait for a normal office visit. For some Americans, a community health clinic is the first option when a medical concern creeps up that can wait until regular clinic hours. When going into the emergency department or a community health clinic, patients expect to get proper testing, diagnosis and treatment for the condition or illness that sent them to the emergency room. While that happens in most cases, a new estimate is that at least one out every 20 emergency room patients and community health clinics doesn't receive the proper diagnosis.

A study posted in the BMJ Quality and Safety notes that patients with a variety of conditions, such as anemia, heart failure, lung cancer and pneumonia, might have problems that aren't recognized by a doctor. The study used data from three prior studies that used certain markers, such as unusual patterns of return visits following visits to a primary care doctor. After reviewing these three studies, it was found that just a little more than 5 percent of cases had an incorrect initial diagnosis. What's worse is that using the information available at that time, the proper diagnosis could have been made. One patient safety expert thinks that 5 percent might actually be an underestimate.

Approximately 12 million patients each year might be affected by these diagnostic errors. About 6 million of those diagnosis errors could cause harm to the patient. Those who have been harmed by a failure to diagnose might be able to seek compensation for related expenses. While civil action cannot correct the illnesses or injuries suffered due to a missed or delayed diagnosis, it may provide the compensation needed to cover past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost wages, as well as a number of non-economic damages.

Source:  ArkLaTexHomepage.com, "Misdiagnosed: Doc's mistakes affect 12 million a year" Nick LaFave, Apr. 16, 2014

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