Outpatient misdiagnoses more common than you might think

A group of researchers has finished a study that comes to an unsettling conclusion about outpatient medical care: misdiagnosis is widely underreported and surprisingly common.

Much is said about diagnostic errors in hospitals, that is, in facilities that provide inpatient care. However, there is a great dearth of information about misdiagnoses by small-practice doctors and clinics. Looking at three previous studies, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine found that one in 20 — or 12 million U.S. adults — are misdiagnosed at medical clinics and doctors’ offices each year.

A quick rundown of how the researchers figured these numbers:

  • They looked at three previous studies and analyzed about 3,000 medical records.
  • Across those records, the rate of diagnostic errors was 5 percent.
  • The researchers extrapolated that 5 percent based on the fact that 80 percent of adults in the U.S. seek outpatient care each year.
  • And thus about 12 million patients are misdiagnosed.

Troubling still is that the researchers estimate that half of those diagnostic errors cause serious medical problems.

The head researcher called for more research and open discussion of misdiagnoses in outpatient care.

After all, early intervention is extremely important to protecting patients against devastating medical outcomes. In many cases, cancer and other potentially fatal illnesses can be effectively treated if diagnosed early enough.

If a delayed or mistaken diagnosis has harmed you or a loved one, then you may want to look into your options for bringing a claim of medical negligence. Medical professionals have an obligation to meet certain standards of care. Too often, failure to meet those standards results in immense loss to patients and their families.

Source: Reuters, “About 12 million U.S. outpatients misdiagnosed annually,” Curtis Skinner, April 17, 2014