New Study Confirms Medical Misdiagnosis is all too Common
By Sean Lally, Staff Writer
According to a new study by researchers at the esteemed Mayo Clinic, 20 percent of patients who sought a second opinion were found to have been misdiagnosed by their primary physician. Additionally, 12 percent were given the same exact diagnosis their second time around, while everyone else received second opinions that were in partial agreement with the first doctor. The study included 286 past patients (mostly women below the age of 64) who had come to the Mayo Clinic between 2009 and 2010 in order to obtain another point of view after having been diagnosed by primary care doctors, nurses and assistants.
Grain of Salt
James M. Naessens, a professor at the Mayo Clinic who led the research team, told the Washington Post that the results should be taken with a grain of salt, as the patients in the study were suffering from a serious illness. Consequently, those patients decided to get a second opinion from some of the best physicians in the country. Thus, the study’s outcome is not necessarily representative of day-to-day doctor visits.
A Pervasive Issue
That’s not to say that misdiagnosis is not a very serious problem. The Mayo Clinic’s research follows on the heels of other similar reports, such as one released in 2015 by the National Academy of Medicine, which found that most people are misdiagnosed at least once during the course of their lifetimes. That same report alluded to a 2014 study which found that 12 million adults receive a false diagnosis on an annual basis. That’s five percent of adults in pursuit of outpatient services.
A Life and Death Problem
In light of the serious concerns surrounding this issue, The National Academy of Medicine has called for federal funding to attack what it sees as an undervalued problem in this country – that is, the large numbers of misdiagnoses costing so many people their money and their lives.
It is no understatement to say that misdiagnosis costs people their lives. The Mayo Clinic’s study cited previous research, stating that 10 percent of patient deaths are the result of some form of diagnostic error. That’s in addition to the “6 to 17 percent of adverse events in hospitals” that are also caused by misdiagnosis.
In a press release, Naessens explained that misdiagnosis can lead to unnecessary costs, saying, “Without adequate resources to handle undifferentiated diagnoses, a potential unintended consequence is misdiagnosis, resulting in treatment delays and complications, and leading to more costly treatments.” He continued, “Total diagnostic costs for cases resulting in a different final diagnosis were significantly higher than those for confirmed or refined diagnoses, but the alternative could be deadly.”
In light of the costs associated with diagnostic errors – such as expensive treatments following delayed diagnoses – Naessens said, “We want to encourage second opinions when the provider is not certain.”
This is especially true since, according to the Mayo Clinic’s press release, pressures on health insurers to cut costs have led to a decrease in referrals given to patients. Thus, it is important to tell your doctor you want a referral, so a specialist can offer her opinion. As Mark Graber, founder of the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, told the Washington Post, “There are 10,000 diseases and only 200 to 300 symptoms.” Thus, seeing a specialist can make all the difference in the world, as diagnosis is no small task.
In a related vein, medical malpractice cases are most commonly linked to diagnostic errors. In 2013, 33 percent of medical malpractice payouts were related to some form of misdiagnosis. As outlined on PersonalInjury.com, there are multiple kinds of misdiagnosis:
- Failure to Diagnose
- Incorrect Diagnosis
- Delayed Diagnosis
- Missed Diagnosis
- Failure to Recognize Complications
And as Colling, Gilbert, Wright & Carter observed, failure to diagnose cases tend to involve stroke, heart attack and multiple kinds of cancer. These include lung cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer.
If you or a loved one has been on the receiving end of a diagnostic error, it’s a good idea to consult a personal injury attorney with experience in medical malpractice cases. He or she will help reduce your stress level as you seek compensation.