Misdiagnosed Patient

According to The American Journal of Medicine 15 percent of all medical cases in developed countries result in a misdiagnosed patient. Literally millions of patients worldwide are being treated for the wrong conditions every year. This occurs even with the use of modern technology. Other studies have come to similar findings. The Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that 26 percent of cases were cases of a misdiagnosed patient. The Journal of Clinical Oncology has reported that up to 44 percent of some types of cancer are misdiagnosed.

These statistics should be getting a lot more attention. Misdiagnosis results in needless suffering for the misdiagnosed patient and even death. Secondly, it also means that valuable health care dollars are being expended each year to treat conditions that are not the cause of patients’ symptoms.

Evan Falchuk, vice chairman of Best Doctors, Inc. in an opinion piece published in the Seattle Times argues that there are five root causes as to why the rate of misdiagnosed patients have not changed much over the past 30 years. He identifies these causes as

1. Fragmentation of the health-care system which leads to many opportunities to delay or misread tests, miscommunicate findings or order the wrong tests in the first place. This increases the odds that there will be a misdiagnosed patient that will not receive the right diagnosis and treatment.

2. A physician’s overconfidence in his or her diagnostic ability. Once doctors have made up their mind about a patient’s condition, and once a diagnosis has been reached and the patient is sent down a treatment path, it is very hard to step off that path. This phenomena was studied by Dr. Eta S. Berner and Dr. Mark L. Graber in an article entitled “Diagnostic Error: Is Overconfidence the Problem?”.

3. The way doctors are trained to think. Dr. Jerome Groopman, one of the world’s foremost thinkers on diagnostic error, believes rigid reliance on evidence-based medicine, a process by which treatment decisions are based on statistically proven data, is largely to blame for many diagnoses that are missed.

4. Doctors do not have enough time to spend on a patient. As a result they are not able to provide in-depth and more detail-oriented care.

5. The increasing trend of physicians practising in a narrow area of subspeciality. This concentration on a specific focus actually decreases the clinical experience needed to recognize conditions that a more general speciality provides.

Unfortunately the author is not able to provide any quick fixes to this systemic failure in medicine. Firstly he calls for greater recognition of the high rate of misdiagnosis and its causes. Other suggestions include:

1. More in-depth exams and data analysis including careful examination of a patient’s complete, detailed medical history.

2. Changing teaching methods so that medical students will not look for the quickest and easiest diagnosis. The goal being to increase a doctor’s capacity for critical thinking.

3. Spending more time with a patient.

4. Tracking by hospitals and doctors of instances of misdiagnosis so that regular feedback on misdiagnosed cases can lead to improvement of diagnostic rates.

The first and third suggestions are of course related to each other. The only way in which they can be implemented is to increase the cost of health care as a greater commitment of health care resources will be required to achieve those gains. We think this is an unlikely possibility in our current economic climate. A more viable long term approach will be to achieve greater productivity and awareness of specific patient information by a better implementation and use of communication technology within the context of electronic medicine.

The Misdiagnosed Patient and Our Medical Malpractice Law Firm

If you are a misdiagnosed patient that has suffered injury you may wish to review your legal options at our failure to diagnose page or by completing our case evaluation form by clicking on the button in the sidebar.

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