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Misdiagnoses continue to plague primary care, study finds

According to a recent study, a significant number of patients are misdiagnosed when seeking primary care each year.

Whenever you are not feeling like yourself, you rightfully expect a physician to find out the cause of your ailments. Unfortunately, as doctors are only human, they sometimes fail to diagnose the correct condition. Although you might think that this is a rare occurrence, according to a recent study by the Baylor College of Medicine, misdiagnoses happen more often than think.

According to the study, recently published in BMJ Quality and Safety, about 12 million Americans are diagnosed each year in outpatient clinics and doctors' offices across the nation. Even more alarming is the fact that the study also found that quite a significant number of those misdiagnosed-about half-suffer harm because of the physician's failure to find the correct diagnosis.

The harm that patients suffer because of misdiagnoses depends heavily on the medical condition that is afflicting them. If the condition is minor, a misdiagnosis often can result in little or no harm. However, even in this case, if the condition is not correctly treated, it can become worse. Obviously, if the medical condition is serious, like cancer, any delay in administering treatment has serious repercussions. This delay can cause the condition to spread to other parts of the body or become more difficult (or impossible) to treat. Unfortunately, this often can result in the patient's death.

Conditions that are commonly misdiagnosed

Prior studies have identified five serious and potentially fatal medical conditions that routinely are overlooked by physicians. These conditions include:

  • Pulmonary embolisms-these occur when an artery is blocked by fat, tumors or blood clots. Many times, these occur after a surgical procedure. Physicians often fail to screen at-risk patients for them, which makes it the leading cause of preventable hospital deaths as a result.
  • Heart attacks-the symptoms are often very subtle and easily overlooked.
  • Cancer-doctors often fail to run tests to check for this condition.
  • General cardiovascular disease-this condition is easy-to-miss because the symptoms (e.g. nausea) often appear to be minor. Like heart attacks, the telltale symptoms can be subtle.
  • Infections-according to a prior study published in Pediatrics, more than half of viral infections are misdiagnosed as bacterial infections. This is often due to a failure to order follow-up tests.

Experts recommend that patients take certain actions to protect themselves when visiting a physician. These actions include: asking the physician how the diagnosis was arrived at, asking if there is another explanation for the symptoms, and how/why other medical conditions were ruled out. If you cannot get a satisfactory explanation for your diagnosis, seek a second opinion.

If you have been harmed because of a misdiagnosis, it is important to seek the advice of a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. Under the law, you may be entitled to recover damages for your injuries. An attorney can consider your unique circumstances and advise you further on your legal rights.

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