Misdiagnosis Statistics: How Often Do Diagnostic Errors Occur?
March 10, 2014
When we go to a doctor to get an official diagnosis, we want to be able to trust that these medical professionals have the proper training and experience to make the right diagnosis, as well as to prescribe and administer the appropriate treatments. Tragically, however:
- This is not always the case.
- Doctors and other medical professionals often make mistakes.
- When these mistakes pertain to a patient’s diagnosis, they can have serious – if not deadly – results. This is because misdiagnoses can allow some conditions to worsen or spread, which could make treatments of limited use.
The following misdiagnosis statistics provide a clearer picture of how big of a problem misdiagnoses is and how often doctors make diagnostic errors in the U.S. These statistics have been compiled and presented by a number of reputable organizations, including (but not limited to):
- The National Center for Policy Analysis
- The National Cancer Institute
- The Veterans Administration
- The National Patient Safety Foundation.
According to these sources:
- Between 10 and 20 percent of all patients in the U.S. are misdiagnosed at some point in their lives. Misdiagnosis can include making the wrong diagnosis, as well as failure to make any diagnosis in a timely manner.
- The number of cases of diagnostic errors exceeds the number of cases of both medication errors and surgical errors in the U.S.; however, the latter tend to gain more publicity when they occur.
- As many as 28 percent of the cases of misdiagnoses result in life-threatening injuries or irreversible injuries.
According to misdiagnosis statistics (which have been compiled by various reputable agencies):
In intensive care units alone, diagnostic errors reportedly result in about 40,500 deaths every year in the U.S. This is approximately the same number of people who reportedly die as a result of breast cancer each year.
- Misdiagnosis rates tend to be the highest in intensive care units and emergency rooms (rather than in doctors’ offices) due to the fact that medical professionals in these settings typically have very little time to make a diagnosis and start administering treatments.
- More than 90 percent of diagnostic errors are preventable, and about 9 in 10 doctors report that they come across a misdiagnosis (from another physician) at least one time each month.
- Of the 500 million (or so) primary care doctors’ visits that take place each year in the U.S., about 500,000 instances of failure to diagnose a condition occur.
- Over the last three decades, more than 1.3 million people have reportedly been erroneously diagnosed with cancer.
- Some researchers have attributed the high incidence of diagnostic errors to the fact that making a proper diagnosis (especially of more complex or elusive conditions) is a complicated process. Others point out that, in many cases, medical professionals never become aware of their diagnostic errors because patients will just go to other doctors.
- Diagnostic errors are the most common claim in malpractice lawsuits; despite this fact, however, researchers have suggested that the majority of people who are victims of diagnostic errors never seek legal recourse to hold negligent medical professionals responsible for their mistakes. One reason may be that, in some cases, it takes months or even years before patients are aware that they have been the victims of diagnostic errors.
- When patients do file malpractice lawsuits based on claims of diagnostic errors, the five most common conditions associated with such cases include heart attack (myocardial infarction), breast cancer, appendicitis, lung cancer and colon cancer.
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