One out of Every 20 Patients Diagnosed Incorrectly Each Year

How serious are medical errors in this country? One out of every 20 patients is misdiagnosed in this country in outpatient settings every year, according to a new health care industry study. That’s approximately 12 million people.

The study, published online by the journal BMJ Quality & Safety, also reports that the misdiagnoses for half of those patients – 6 million people – are very serious, such as missing or delaying cancer treatment, which can be fatal.

A researcher at the Baylor College of Medicine conducted the study by reviewing two previous studies on cancer diagnoses and one less specific on primary care diagnostic mistakes. By extrapolating the data, the study concluded that 12 million patients suffer a wrong or missed diagnosis each year. Those included in the study were not hospital patients. They were examined in outpatient care centers such as doctor clinics.

In the primary care study, the research team looked for patients who returned to their doctor after their initial visit in a much shorter time than would be expected. In the cancer studies, which included colon and lung cancer patients, the researchers looked for diagnostic clues in the original patient visits that were overlooked, such as questionable X-rays.

Of the patient records examined in the study, 5 percent were found to contain a wrong diagnosis. Just as important, the researchers say that the information available to the doctors at the time could have provided a correct diagnosis.

The study recommends that patients take a more aggressive role in their treatment by considering seeking opinions from other doctors and asking questions during all doctor visits.

But of course health care providers have a duty to provide adequate care for their patients. When they don’t, and patients suffer harm as a result, they may want to consult an attorney who can investigate and hold the responsible parties accountable for their serious mistakes.