Top Three Serous Medical Conditions That Are Often Misdiagnosed

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Some estimates say that as many as 15% of all medical diagnoses are incorrect.  Now a new study concludes that certain serious medical conditions are often misdiagnosed.

A medical misdiagnosis can take three forms:

·         Missed diagnosis

·         A wrong diagnosis

·         Delayed diagnosis

Each type of preventable medical error can seriously hurt patients. According to the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, an organization that works to improve medical diagnoses, between 40,000 and 80,000 patients die each year in this country due to a misdiagnosis.

This organization funded a study (“Rate of Diagnostic Errors and Serious Misdiagnosis-related Harms for Major Vascular Events, Infections, and Cancers: Toward a National Incidence Estimate Using the ‘Big Three’) published this month in the medical journal Diagnosis that delved further into patient misdiagnoses.

‘Big Three’ Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions

The researchers examined the serious diseases and medical conditions most often misdiagnosed, identified as such by them in a previous study, published last year in Diagnosis. Labeled the “Big Three,” they are:

·         Cancer

·         Infections

·         Vascular events

The study looked at the top five type of each medical condition most misdiagnosed.  The breakdown of each misdiagnosed condition that made up the top 15 were:


·         Lung cancer

·         Breast cancer

·         Colorectal cancer

·         Prostate cancer

·         Melanoma


·         Sepsis

·         Meningitis and Encephalitis

·         Spinal abscess

·         Pneumonia

·         Endocarditis

Vascular Events

·         Stroke

·         Myocardial infarction

·         Venous thromboembolism

·         Aortic aneurysm and dissection

·         Arterial thromboembolism

The rate of misdiagnosis and resulting serious patient harm varied greatly between and within each category.

As Many as 62% of Patients Misdiagnosed

The type of cancer that was misdiagnosed the least was prostate cancer at 2.4%, with 1.2% of patients with a prostate cancer misdiagnosis suffering grave injuries. Lung cancer patients were the most misdiagnosed, at 22%, and about 14% of them died or were seriously injured.

The least misdiagnosed infections in the study were pneumonia and sepsis – 9.5% for each. Spinal abscess was the most incorrectly diagnosed infection, with 62% of the patients suffering a misdiagnosis and well over a third experiencing serious harm as a result.

“Aortic aneurysm and dissection” was the most misdiagnosed vascular event, as about 28% of patients with the condition were diagnosed incorrectly.

All totaled, the study found one out of every 10 patients suffering from one of these top15 serious medical conditions was misdiagnosed. And more than half of the misdiagnosed patients (53.9%) died or suffered serious disability.

And in that previous medical misdiagnosis study conducted by the same team, researchers found that a wrong or delayed diagnosis was responsible for more than a third of medical malpractice lawsuits in which the patient died or was seriously disabled.

Even more troubling, the researchers conclude in this latest study that misdiagnosis rates for these conditions have not fallen in decades; some have even risen.

Serious medical issues that are misdiagnosed can cause catastrophic yet preventable losses for patients and their families. If you had a loved one that died or suffered serious harm as a result of a misdiagnosis, contact a medical malpractice lawyer to review your legal options.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Blog May 18, 2020


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