When a patient visits his primary care physician or specialist to get a diagnosis and treatment plan for a health concern, he trusts that the doctor will make the correct diagnosis. However, a recent study suggests that many medical concerns are misdiagnosed. According to the study published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety, about 12 million Americans involved in outpatient care are misdiagnosed every year. This alarming statistic reveals that at least one in 20 adults may walk away from an emergency room or their doctor’s office with the wrong diagnosis.
When patients are misdiagnosed, they do not receive the treatment they need and may be treated for the wrong condition. Some of the reasons that patients in Virginia and around the country are misdiagnosed include:
- Lack of time. Doctors have a limited amount of time to spend with patients. In most doctor’s offices and clinic settings, patients generally have to wait a long time to see a doctor; however, once the doctor comes into the room, the patient is in and out. According to an article in the Seattle Times, doctors spend about 10-15 minutes or less with patients. Because doctors don’t spend adequate time with each patient, they are more likely to make a misdiagnosis and other medical error.
- Rigid thinking. Doctors are trained to think a certain way and are attached to using their clinical practice guidelines. Although guidelines are valuable, doctors sometimes use them to make premature conclusions and fail to consider other alternatives when diagnosing patients, according to a study cited by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Once a doctor makes a diagnosis, a patient is sent down a treatment path until the misdiagnosis is discovered, which could be months or years later.
- Broken health care system. From the many different people involved in the care of a patient to the lack of coordination and miscommunication that occurs, it’s no wonder that patients are misdiagnosed and treated for the wrong condition. Doctors may accidentally order the wrong tests, or the right test may have been ordered but someone misreads the test and communicates the wrong findings. Until the process is improved, patients will continue to be at risk for getting the wrong diagnosis or treated for the wrong condition.
So What Can Be Done to Help Minimize Misdiagnoses?
Because a misdiagnosis can send a patient down a path of receiving the wrong type of treatment that can cause further harm, patients and their families need to take an active role in their healthcare. Some of the recommended steps include:
- Follow-up. Sometimes patients don’t hear back from their doctor’s office regarding test results, and they assume no news is good news. Never assume this. Always call or email your doctor’s office for test results and answers.
- Get a second opinion. After a doctor provides you with a diagnosis, it is always a good idea to seek another physician’s opinion—especially if there are some concerns in your mind or if something doesn’t make sense.
- Keep thorough records of test results. You are entitled to receive copies of your test results; however, most of the time you have to request them. Review the results yourself and keep all your medical information together as best you can.
The Seriousness of a Misdiagnosis
When patients are misdiagnosed, they are often treated for the wrong condition or not treated at all. This is alarming—especially when a cancer diagnosis is missed and the correct treatment could be life-saving. Patients who are victims of misdiagnosed conditions not only suffer needlessly, but their families also suffer emotionally and financially.
When victims of diagnostic errors struggle to find out what’s wrong, or when families suffer the devastation with a lost life due to an incorrect diagnosis, the negligent medical professional needs to be held responsible for the physical, financial, and emotional trauma a misdiagnosis and/or wrong treatment caused. If you have been harmed as a result of a misdiagnosis, don’t hesitate to seek legal help. Please contact us online or call us for a complimentary consultation today.