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Study: Outpatient Misdiagnoses Estimated at 12 Million per Year

It’s an uncomfortable and common experience among patients: leaving a clinic or a doctor’s office and not feeling reassured, but rather feeling uncertain about the diagnosis and proposed treatment. Maybe the doctor didn’t fully explain something, or maybe the patient was reticent to ask a question.

When these concerns crop up, it is extremely important that patients are aware of their option to seek a second opinion. Early detection of serious medical conditions is often the key to effectively treating them. However, a recent study points to the serious risk of misdiagnosis in outpatient settings. There is much diagnostic data available for hospitals, but this particular study is meant to address the lack of information with regard to diagnostic errors in clinics and doctors’ offices.

According to the study, which was published in BMJ Quality & Safety, each year about 12 million adult patients in the U.S. are misdiagnosed in outpatient settings. The researchers analyzed three previous studies, two of which looked at cancer screenings. The other previous study looked at diagnostic errors detected among primary care providers.

Extrapolating the data, the researchers found that for adults the annual rate of misdiagnosis in outpatient settings is 5 percent, representing about 12 million patients. The study also concluded that approximately half of those patients could suffer severe medical harm as a result of errors.

In response to the study, doctors have encouraged patients to provide a detailed and chronological explanation of their medical history, including any medical conditions of parents and other family members. Likewise, the study has prompted medical professionals to urge other doctors to slow down, listen and seek a second opinion from a colleague if there is doubt about a diagnosis.

Source: CBS News, “12 million Americans misdiagnosed each year,” Jessica Firger, April 17, 2014

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