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Institute of Medicine: misdiagnosis still common in health care

Imagine going to an urgent care facility or an emergency room with symptoms that you think are from a heart attack, but you're told that you have indigestion only to discover later on that indeed, you were having a heart attack. Or that your doctor tells you that your anemia symptoms are the result of an ulcer, but you discover that in fact the culprit is kidney cancer.

What these incidents have in common are that they describe real-life instances in which the patients were fortunate to have survived the doctor's mistake. And according to a newly released study by the Institute of Medicine, they are not as uncommon as you might like to think

In fact, a conservative estimate is that annually one of every 20 Americans in Connecticut and elsewhere experiences a diagnostic error while undergoing medical treatment, and every year thousands of people suffer worsened medical conditions or even die as a result. Misdiagnosis is the single most common form of medical malpractice claim that results in a settlement or a judgment, and is twice as likely to lead to a fatal outcome as the next highest malpractice-related cause. 

The reasons why misdiagnoses happen are several, including:

  • Medical personnel who are under time pressure to make diagnoses too quickly;
  • Failure of such personnel to accurately understand what patients are telling them;
  • X-ray or lab tests that are misread or misplaced;
  • Failure to share electronic health records; and
  • An unwillingness of doctors to consider alternative diagnoses once they have locked onto an initial diagnosis.

The study suggests that one way to reduce both the frequency and the seriousness of medical misdiagnosis is for doctors to work more closely with their patients, and to encourage medical personnel to share information  - as a learning experience - when they discover that such a mistake has happened, instead of holding the information back because they feel like they are "blaming" those who made the error.

Regardless of how the medical profession may attempt to correct the problem in general, if you have been harmed as the result of a medical misdiagnosis you should still consider consulting with a personal injury attorney to see if you have a cause of action to compensate you for the effects of that harm.

Source: CT Post, "Study: Diagnosis wrong too often, urgent improvement needed," Lauran Neergaard, Sept. 22, 2015

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