Medical Misdiagnosis is a Common Occurrence

According to a nationwide survey of medical professionals, patient misdiagnosis happens relatively frequently. QuantiaMD, the largest mobile and online physician community, last year surveyed 6,400 medical providers, and 47 percent of those said they encounter diagnosis errors at least monthly; 3 percent said they see such errors most days

A majority – 64% – said that up to 10 percent of the misdiagnoses they saw resulted in patient harm. And almost all of the respondents (96 percent) said they believe diagnostic errors are preventable, at least some of the time. The errors included missed, late, or wrong diagnoses.

According to the survey, pulmonary embolism is the one condition at greatest risk for diagnostic error, followed by bipolar disorder, appendicitis and breast cancer. (A separate study from 2006 found that more than half of patients diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – the nation’s fourth leading cause of death and second cause of disability – had previously been misdiagnosed with asthma, leading to improper treatments.)

Medical Diagnosis: Art or Science?

Interestingly, almost three-fourths of the QuantiaMD respondents said that diagnosis is equal parts art and science, while 14% said that it was more science and 12% said it was more art. So pinpointing the reasons for diagnostic error can be difficult. Contributing factors to misdiagnosis include failure to consider other diagnoses, inadequate follow-up on test results, and failure to order appropriate tests.

With so many potential causes, proving diagnostic error can be complicated without the assistance of experienced medical and legal professionals.

The result of a misdiagnosis may not be immediately known, playing out over a long period of time. The misdiagnosed patient may be subjected to costly and lengthy additional treatment. Depending upon the patient’s condition, delays caused by a misdiagnosis can lead to death, made more tragic in that it may have been avoidable.