Doctors frequently fail to diagnose the right condition in patients

Millions of people are harmed every year from a wrong medical diagnosis, according to a new study published in BMJ Quality and Safety. In all, about 5 percent of all patients who receive care at outpatient treatment centers have received a missed diagnosis. The authors of the study noted that faulty medical records and data error could mean the rate of misdiagnosis is even higher.

The Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine found that error is the leading cause of medical malpractice suits in the U.S., and as many as 80,000 patients die because of a missed or delayed diagnosis. About 5 percent of missed diagnoses occur when information for the correct diagnosis was available but medical staff still could not correctly diagnose a patient.

Conditions commonly misdiagnosed include cancer, clogged arteries, heart attack and infection. Aortic dissection is a common misdiagnosis, as a tearing sensation in the chest can indicate a number of diseases, or heartburn. These conditions are serious and can lead to significant injury, illness and death.

A variety of reasons may cause a doctor may fail to diagnose a medical condition correctly. One primary reason for missed diagnoses is not taking enough time with individual patients. Doctors are hurried; one American Cancer Society Official notes that physicians have about 10 minutes to diagnose a patient. With such limited time, doctors cannot explore all options regarding symptoms and patient medical history. In some cases, medical facilities are not even using doctors to diagnose patients, but instead nurses to take down a patient's symptoms and report to a supervising physician.

Patients can help themselves

Doctors also suffer from not obtaining a thorough medical history. Patients can help themselves by being honest and detailed in the description of their symptoms, along with a complete medical history. Patients should also feel free to ask questions during a checkup and follow up with recommendations and tests. Asking about x-ray and biopsy results is expected if the doctor has not gotten back within a reasonable amount of time.

It also may be advisable to get a second opinion, especially if symptoms do not go away or worsen. Doctors are perhaps the most respected professionals in America, but they are only human and some doctors will make mistakes. Nor are all doctors created equal. Patients may need to advocate on their own behalf in order to find a trusted and competent physician.

Still, there is only so much a layperson can do regarding their own health. That is why a missed or delayed diagnosis can be so deadly. Patients who have suffered because of a delayed diagnosis, or family members of patients tragically killed because they did not receive the treatment they needed, should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney for help with medical expenses, lost wages and other money damages.