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Study: Outpatient misdiagnosis is a big problem

As a culture, we place a great deal of faith in the medical profession. We need to. Doctors go through extensive education and training to learn the profession. Many people in southwestern Ohio teach their kids that it is better to make a doctor’s appointment than to self-diagnose. But, if a physician fails to properly assess a situation, fails to order the proper tests that the standard of care suggests, lands on the wrong diagnosis or makes a mistake that otherwise delays a diagnosis, a patient can suffer dire harm.

How often does the issue of misdiagnosis occur?

Researchers say that in the outpatient setting, the numbers are high. Exact numbers are hard to come by, and the researchers say that their findings may be conservative. But, the study estimated that about five percent of patients who visit doctor’s offices, clinics and other outpatient settings walk away from the appointment after being misdiagnosed. Most diagnoses in the United States occur in outpatient settings.

The numbers found in the study amount to an estimated 12 million adult patients who do not learn the true condition that they sought to have diagnosed. The researchers admit that not all misdiagnoses lead to significant harm. But, the lead author of the research says that he thinks as many as half of those receiving the wrong information could experience severe harm from the misdiagnosis, according to Reuters.

The lead author hopes that the research will create awareness of the issue, leading to an open debate to correct the problem. He believes that putting a number on the issue is only the first step in improving patient safety.

When a patient suffers harm from a medical mistake, the issue can result in a variety of outcomes. Serious harm may need to be corrected through more aggressive forms of treatment, which can cause increases in expense and pain for the victim. More dire outcomes are also possible.

A victim of a medical mistake may have a medical malpractice claim. The laws governing medical malpractice issues in Ohio are complex. Patients, or the family of a patient, may consult with legal counsel to learn how medical negligence is treated in the legal arena.

Source: Reuters, “About 12 million U.S. outpatients misdiagnosed annually: study,” Curtis Skinner, April 17, 2014

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