Study finds wrong diagnosis may lead to patient injuries

According to a recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association, wrong or missed diagnoses may put patients at risk of developing serious complications. Most people are familiar with incidents of mistakes during surgery and medication errors by reading or listening to news. But, the study found that failure to diagnose or misdiagnoses are a major public health issue which does not receive the same attention.

New Jersey residents may find it interesting to learn that given how common misdiagnoses occur they may actually result in more patient harm and deaths than other medical mistakes. According to the co-author of the commentary to the study, at least 150,000 people annually either die or suffer disabilities due to misdiagnoses. As part of the study, researchers evaluated heath records to track the diagnostic errors made during primary care visits.

In one case, a patient ended up in the emergency room or returned back to the hospital within two weeks of the misdiagnoses. The nature of the misdiagnoses included cancer, pneumonia and heart and kidney failure. The study found that these errors could have resulted in permanent damage and even death. However, the study noted that one of the issues for primary care physicians in diagnosing a problem is the commonality of symptoms a patient might present. For instance, shortness of breath or a stomach ache could be a symptom for a range of illnesses.

The study noted that part of the problem is that doctors are not taking or getting an accurate patient history, doing a full exam or ordering the necessary or correct diagnostic tests. The researchers suggest that patients can do more and give their doctors a more detailed and thorough history of their symptoms, such as when they started. Further, the patient should ask their doctor more questions.

Source: UT San Diego, “Misdiagnosis common in primary care, study finds,” Genevra Pittman, May 21, 2013