One in every 20 medical diagnoses is wrong, and that statistic includes only those reported incidents of misdiagnosis. In some situations, the true medical condition eventually corrects itself. In other cases, the undetected illness can worsen, or the treatment for the wrong condition can result in permanent injury or even death. In fact, a recent study shows that between 40,000 and 80,000 patients die annually in the United States because of mistaken diagnoses.
How can this happen? With ever-improving medical technology and training for those in the medical field, how can it be that more than 12 million Americans leave the doctor’s office with an incorrect diagnosis? The reasons may surprise you. More importantly, if you believe your doctor has misdiagnosed you, the next step could be critical for your future.
Commonly missed conditions
Cancer may be the most dreaded word in the English language. If you have strange symptoms, the possibility that you have cancer may cross your mind. Receiving a different diagnosis can bring relief unless your symptoms persist or worsen. To learn months later that cancer was, indeed, the correct diagnosis and that the disease has since spread can be devastating.
Among the top 10 most commonly misdiagnosed conditions, half of them are types of cancer, with colon cancer topping the list. Other conditions doctors frequently misdiagnose include heart attack, stroke and sepsis, and time is of the essence for all of these.
What’s going wrong?
In many cases, there is a breakdown in communication between the doctor and patient. Patients might find their symptoms too embarrassing to reveal, or they might believe some symptoms are not related. However, even if you are completely forthcoming, your medical team may do any of the following, leading to a wrong diagnosis:
- Distractions or not paying attention while you describe your symptoms
- Ordering the wrong tests
- Reading the test results incorrectly
- Entering the wrong data into electronic records
- Failing to follow up with a radiologist, pathologist or specialists
Any of these can lead to a missed or delayed diagnosis, which means you might not get the treatment you need when you need it.
After receiving a medical diagnosis, it is often smart to get a second opinion, especially if you suspect the first opinion is wrong. It is your right, and you should never worry about offending your primary physician. A second opinion could save your life. However, if you learn that a misdiagnosis has left you with further injury or a lower chance of recovery, it will be important for you to learn about all your options, both legally and medically.