What causes physicians to misdiagnose patients?

Medical misdiagnosis made by physicians in outpatient setting can cause serious harm to unsuspecting patients.

While there are several types of medical malpractice cases in the U.S., one of the most common are physician misdiagnosis, or failing to diagnose patients. When people seek medical attention from a trusted professional, they rely on the doctor to give them an accurate idea of what the problem is and offer potential treatments that may be effective in bettering the situation. However, studies show that a number of patients do not leave the clinic with the right diagnosis and some critically sick people do not receive a diagnosis at all. Not only can this oversight lead to serious patient injury and the potential to cause life-long trouble, it can contribute to the death of patients as well.

A look at the research

Although several studies have looked at the rate of misdiagnosis in primary care settings, little research has been conducted on the number of patients misdiagnosed in outpatient clinics and emergency rooms. A study published in BMJ Quality & Safety discovered that there are indeed a significant number of patients who suffer from diagnostic errors in these types of settings. At least 12 million adults across the country are affected by diagnostic errors and negligence each year, which represents at least one out of every 20 adult patients. Of that number, six million patients experience serious harm from the mistakes. Researchers point out, however, that this number is extremely hard to calculate, as many patients who have suffered from diagnostic mistakes either don't know that they have been affected, or simply do not report the error.

Factors leading to misdiagnosis

Researchers have found several commonalities between diagnostic errors. In outpatient and emergency room settings, physicians are generally rushed from patient to patient. Some doctors simply do not have the time and/or resources to fully evaluate each patient's symptoms, run diagnostic tests, evaluate the results and then make a decision as to what is going on.

In addition, patients may not remember to share their complete and comprehensive patient history with the doctor, as the patients are not established with these physicians. Without a medical history or chart for reference, it can be hard to evaluate the situation. In some cases, doctors may make a mistake and order the wrong type of screening test or misread the test as well.

Know where to turn

If you are the victim of misdiagnosis or some other type of medical negligence, you may be injured, frustrated and emotionally overwhelmed. It can be difficult to know where to turn. A California attorney who handles medical malpractice cases often has the knowledge necessary to oversee your case and represent you in court.