Medical Misdiagnosis: How common is it?

Medical misdiagnosis statistics: It is more common than you think

How common is misdiagnosis in today’s medical practice? The answer to this question is very alarming. Doctors and scientists have devised several ways to arrive at medical misdiagnosis statistics. Here are some of them:

1.Misdiagnosis statistics from autopsy report:

Based on the latest studies, 8.4 percentage of all people who die in American hospitals have at least one major misdiagnosis. A major misdiagnosis occurs when the misdiagnosis contributes directly to the death of the patient. In other words, doctors might have been able to save those patients if they were diagnosed properly. The average number of Americans who die in hospitals every year is around 850000. Just looking at major misdiagnosis (8.4% of 850000), seventy one thousand and four hundred Americans die every year from misdiagnosis of major life threatening diseases. When the study looked at all misdiagnosis , the percentage of misdiagnosis was as high as 28%.

2.Review of medical records to estimate percentage of misdiagnosis during office visits:

The most recent medical misdiagnosis statistics for doctor’s office visits was obtained by reviewing the medical records of the patients. It was actually a combined review of three studies. The first 2 studies used triggers to identify possible misdiagnosis and selected the charts for review. For example, if someone visited a doctor and went home with a diagnosis but later required hospitalization, it would trigger a chart review to make sure the first doctor did not misdiagnose the condition. The third study did chart review specifically to look if doctor misdiagnosed cancer. They only reviewed the charts of people who were eventually diagnosed with lung cancer. They looked for signs of misdiagnosis early on and evaluated if the doctor gave a misdiagnosis when everything pointed to a clear diagnosis of lung cancer. Using an average of these 3 studies, it was estimated that the percentage of misdiagnosis at doctor’s office was around 5%. It means that 1 in 20 adults who visit doctor’s office get a misdiagnosis and that includes misdiagnosis of cancer. Considering the very high number of doctor’s office visit in America, that translated to about 12 millions adults a year that get misdiagnosed.

3.Misdiagnosis lawsuits as a source of medical misdiagnosis statistics:

Considering the very alarming percentage of misdiagnosis that happens everyday throughout America, many people wonder, “Can you sue for misdiagnosis?”. Yes, you can. However, only a small percentage of patients who get misdiagnosed actually file misdiagnosis lawsuit. People tend to file misdiagnosis lawsuit only when there is significant harm associated with the misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis. For example people file failure to diagnose lawsuit when a missed diagnosis of cancer resulted in missed opportunity to treat that cancer early. The doctor could have misdiagnosed lung cancer as pneumonia or could have failed to review the result of a biopsy or a CT scan. Although misdiagnosis lawsuit are only filed in a small percentage of patients who get misdiagnosed, misdiagnosis lawsuits represent about 29% of all paid malpractice lawsuits. It is hard to estimate the actual percentage of misdiagnosis based on review of misdiagnosis lawsuits but it shows us that misdiagnosis is a major in malpractice lawsuits. Misdiagnosis of cancer (ovarian cancer misdiagnosis, colon cancer misdiagnosis, thyroid cancer misdiagnosis, kidney cancer misdiagnosis), misdiagnosis of heart disease and misdiagnosis of stroke are some examples of most common misdiagnosis cases that end up getting paid in a malpractice claim.

4.Medical misdiagnosis statistics derived from insurance claim review:

Insurance companies maintain a large database of patients and their diagnoses. When doctors or hospitals bill insurance companies for patent care, they have to list the names and codes of all the diagnoses they made for that patient. If used properly, this data help estimate misdiagnosis occurrence. One such study was done to estimate missed diagnosis of stroke. They looked at patients that were in the hospital with a diagnosis of stroke. They reviewed the files for those patients and checked to see if they had possible stroke like symptoms in the recent past. The review showed that 12.7 percent of those patients had possible stroke during ER or doctor visit that went undiagnosed. It showed almost definite evidence of missed stroke in 1.2 percent of the patients.

5.Medical misdiagnosis from lab error:

Lab test results and review of specimens by pathologists heavily influence the diagnosis made by doctors. Measurement and analysis of these lab errors give important insight to medical misdiagnosis statistics. Study reveals that majority (anywhere from 32% to 75%) of lab error related misdiagnosis occur during the ordering, labeling, and correctly identifying the sample that goes to the medical lab.

6.Medical misdiagnosis from wrong interpretation of x-rays, CT scans and MRIs:

Doctors rely on these imaging studies to make correct diagnosis. If the scans were improperly reviewed by radiologists, it can lead to misdiagnosis. Doctors rely on the expertise of the radiologists to make those judgement calls. However, it seems like the experts miss important findings anywhere from 26 to 32 percent of the times they look at the scans. It seems like less experienced radiologists make the most mistakes.

7.Survey of doctors:

One way to get statistical data about misdiagnosis is to survey the doctors with direct questions about misdiagnosis. It seems like most doctors recall instances of misdiagnosis they were involved in. In one such study, more than 50% of doctors recalled making a wrong diagnosis at least once or twice in the last month.

8.Survey of patients:

Another way of obtaining medical misdiagnosis statistics is by asking the patients directly about it. It seems like patients recall more instances of misdiagnosis than doctors do. On several studies 23 to 42 percent of patients reported having at least one misdiagnosis.

Medical misdiagnosis happens more frequently than it should. You have probably heard heart wrenching medical misdiagnosis stories from patients or their loved ones. It happens to a lot of people. Doctors and hospital know about this. You can wait for them to improve their diagnostic skills or you can become proactive and learn how doctors make diagnosis. This book “Symptoms and Diagnosis” shows you how doctors make diagnosis and how you can learn to do the same. You will find that you or your loved one can play a much bigger role than you think in helping your doctor make the correct diagnosis.

Reference: Institute of Medicine September 22, 2015