Study finds misdiagnoses affect 10 to 20 percent of medical cases

In certain areas, including the medical field, we must rely on the expertise of other individuals. Unfortunately, there are times when we put our trust in medical professionals who fail to provide the proper care. Reportedly, one of the more common errors made by physicians when treating patients is misdiagnosing the condition from which the patient is suffering.

Diagnostic errors occur in 10 to 20 percent of medical cases, meaning misdiagnoses affect more people than medication errors or surgeries performed on the wrong body part.

Not only are these dangerous errors more common than they should be, they also often result in serious consequences for the patient affected. In 2009, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality conducted a study to determine the frequency with which misdiagnoses led to severe side effects. The researchers examined 583 misdiagnoses. The results revealed that 28 percent of the diagnostic errors led to the patient suffering a permanent disability or the death of the patient.

In total, misdiagnoses result in about as many fatalities as breast cancer each year - 40,500 - according to a study published in BMJ Quality and Safety. Tragically, despite the high number of fatalities caused by diagnostic errors, most physicians feel these errors are preventable. In 2011, 96 percent of over 6,000 doctors surveyed indicated they believed misdiagnoses were avoidable.

Take steps to protect yourself and hold physicians accountable

With these statistics in mind, most patients will not want to rely entirely on one physician when they are suffering from serious symptoms. When suffering from unexplained symptoms, patients should not be hesitant to be proactive about their medical care.

For instance, when a physician provides a diagnosis, you should feel comfortable asking how the doctor came to his or her conclusion. If the explanation is confusing, do not be afraid to ask follow-up questions until you understand why the doctor chose your diagnosis.

After hearing the doctor's explanation, if you are still uncertain about the diagnosis, consider seeing another physician. Obtaining a second opinion may decrease the likelihood that you will be the victim of a diagnostic error. When seeking a second opinion, ensure that the new doctor has access to all of your relevant medical records and test results.

Of course, in the end, your physician has a responsibility to provide an appropriate diagnosis based on your condition. If you are the victim of a misdiagnosis, you may be entitled to damages to cover the expenses caused by the error. In such cases, consulting with a qualified medical malpractice attorney will ensure your rights are protected.