Numerous factors contribute to diagnostic mistakes. Unusual presentation of symptoms, communication challenges and pressure on medical professionals can all contribute to diagnostic errors. Anyone can potentially encounter the wrong medical professional on the wrong day and end up diagnosed with a condition they don’t have or find that they are unable to obtain a diagnosis at all.
Frustratingly, there are certain groups that statistically have a much higher likelihood of enduring diagnostic mistakes when they seek medical treatment. Two relatively large subsets of the population are more likely than the average individual to face diagnostic mistakes when seeking out medical treatment.
Internal bias influences how doctors manage the diagnostic process. A large percentage of medical professionals do not listen as carefully to female patients as they do to male patients. They are less likely to take self-reported symptoms seriously and are more likely to downplay the severity of pain symptoms reported by female patients. These tendencies contribute to women having a 30% higher chance of a diagnostic error on average than male patients. Women with latent medical conditions and reproductive health issues may have an especially difficult time securing a diagnosis and may wait years to understand what causes their symptoms.
Personal bias is also a concern for those who belong to certain racial groups. Black patients and dark-skinned Latin individuals might also face an uphill battle when seeking out medical evaluation and treatment. Doctors may judge people and assume that their reported symptoms are part of drug-seeking behavior. They might also believe inaccurately that darker-skinned individuals have higher pain tolerance when compared with lighter-skinned patients. Statistically, patients with darker complexions are at greater risk of diagnostic failures than those with lighter skin tones.
Individuals who fall into one or both of those groups may need to advocate more carefully for themselves in medical settings. They may also need to speak up if they believe a doctor has failed to diagnose them or diagnosed them improperly because of their personal characteristics. Pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit could be a reasonable response if doctors consciously or subconsciously affected someone’s care for the worse due to their race or sex.