Millions misdiagnosed in US each year: What can be done?
We've all heard stories of patients given the wrong diagnosis for what ails them. Have you ever wondered how many patients are misdiagnosed each year? New research suggests the number of misdiagnosed patients each year is in the millions.
One in 20 patient diagnoses missed or wrong
Researchers suspect approximately 1 in 20 adult patients with abnormal findings are given the wrong diagnosis each year.
The research that is published online in BMJ Quality & Safety highlights the need for better tracking.
Dr. Hardeep Singh of the Veterans Affairs Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety and the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX says finding statistics is challenging.
The authors point out patient safety concerns are primarily focused on hospital infection rates, falls and medication errors. But getting the wrong diagnosis can be just as dangerous as prolonged hospital stays, injury and adverse events from being given the wrong drug.
Because most patients are diagnosed outside of the hospital setting there has been little focus on safety concerns that could affect up to half of patients told they have the wrong ailment.
To find out how many misdiagnoses occur each year the study authors looked for numbers of misdiagnosed conditions from published studies that combined hundreds of records from outpatient clinics. Next they applied the results to a larger population and then to the entire U.S. population.
The research team specifically looked at unusual patterns of patient follow-up in the presence of abnormal findings. A third published study suggested missed opportunities for detecting early lung cancer while another study found missed cases of colorectal cancer.
The results showed 5.08 percent of new patients are misdiagnosed, which suggested 1 in 20 adults receive the wrong diagnosis each year. That equates to roughly 12 million adults.
Singh offers the following suggestions to help protect patients:
- Understand why it happens
- Study and implement strategies to prevent it
- Better physician follow-up
- Better patient tracking
- Local and national policies that address the problem
- Improved information technology to help physicians make better decisions
- Patient empowerment. Call your doctor if you don't get your test results. Never assume no news is good news. If you continue to have symptoms even after you're told your testing is normal seek another opinion.
Singh and his team are in the process of developing technology to help track abnormal findings. The result could help protect millions of adult patients who are misdiagnosed each year.