- Nearly 800,000 Americans suffer permanently or die each year when doctors make diagnostic errors.
- More than one-third of cases involve only five diseases, which could help solve the problem.
- One researcher called it “the most under-resourced public health crisis we face.”
The number of Americans who suffer permanent consequences from medical misdiagnoses is higher than previously thought, according to a new study, but there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your risk.
A study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that about 795,000 Americans are permanently disabled or die as a result of medical misdiagnoses, and there is a possibility that the number could be as high as 1.02 million people. Of the patients who were misdiagnosed, the researchers said, nearly half (371,000) die.
“Diagnostic errors are, by far, the most under-resourced public health crisis we face,” said Dr. David Newman-Toker, director of the Johns Hopkins center of diagnostic excellence.
The top five most misdiagnosed diseases – accounting for 38.7% of all misdiagnosed cases – were stroke, sepsis, pneumonia, venous thromboembolism (blood clots in the veins), and lung cancer.
According to the research, these diagnostic errors often occur when patients show symptoms other than those most commonly associated with the disease. In the case of strokes, we all know the classic symptoms (weakness on one side, slurred speech, etc.). However, during the appearance of CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.” Chief Medical Correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta said there may also be other symptoms, such as dizziness, headache, and fatigue, which doctors are more likely to dismiss as less severe.
Although adverse outcomes are still rare, according to Gupta, there are a few simple questions patients can ask their doctor to further reduce their risk:
- What could be causing my problem?
- What else could it be?
- When will I receive my test results, and what should I do to follow up?
In particular, Gupta called the latter “a very important follow-up question that you should ask.” For doctors who see hundreds and thousands of patients, it may be necessary to help them think outside the box and beyond the day.
The good news, according to the research authors, is that only 15 of them are responsible for more than 50% of the misdiagnoses. Greater awareness of less common symptoms and treatments for these diseases may lead to fewer diagnostic errors. One example is lung cancer. The American Cancer Society now recommends People at high risk of lung cancer receive a low-dose CT scan. This screening tool has a much better chance of detecting the disease early than traditional chest X-rays.
Although we all love to get the doctors right every time, we are talking about complex diseases with sometimes mysterious presentations. Patient awareness and questioning, and ongoing research could be our most powerful weapons against this health crisis.