The study, published online in the Feb. 25 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine, found that eight in 10 misdiagnoses occurred partially due to problems occurring because of the lack of a communication between a doctor and patient or because of a doctor’s misunderstanding of a patient’s medical history. The study also indicated that the lack of appropriate referrals to doctors specializing in certain medical conditions also contributed to misdiagnoses.
“The real time with the patient has shrunk, and that definitely contributes to error,” Dr. Newman-Toker, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, opined in an invited commentary for the study. “We have every reason to believe that diagnostic errors are a major, major public health problem,” Newman-Toker told Reuters Health.
As an example, while 98 percent of the time a patient complaining of a headache may have a simple migraine, Dr. Newman-Toker wrote, 2 percent of the time that may be a symptom of a stroke. The lack of patient-doctor time may contribute to such medical malpractice, he continued.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Singh, examined 212,165 patient visits at a Veterans Affairs facility in order to establish a record of misdiagnoses. Dr. Singh and his researchers examined primary care visits that were followed by unexpected visits to doctors and medical facilities. Dr. Singh’s team then reviewed those records to determine whether a more thorough initial consultation could have determined the underlying cause of the problem initially.
While misdiagnoses included a variety of medical conditions, pneumonia, heart failure, kidney failure and cancer each contributed to between 5 and 7 percent of conditions doctors initially misdiagnosed.
Possibilities for reform
One option to cut down on misdiagnoses may require changes in medical training for doctors and other medical professionals. In addition, patients can help their own cause by preparing in advance of a medical appointment and ensuring they discuss all relevant medical information regarding their symptoms. Finally, patients should not assume that a clean bill of health by a doctor is a final diagnosis, especially if symptoms continue or worsen.
Contact an attorney
The misdiagnosis of a medical condition is a serious and preventable issue that can wreak havoc on a patient and his or her family. People who have suffered because of a misdiagnosis or families who have tragically lost a loved one because of a misdiagnosis should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss their legal options and potentially obtain compensation for medical bills and lost wages.