12 million Americans are misdiagnosed by their doctors every year

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: American medical system, misdiagnoses, doctors

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(NaturalNews) Medical malpractice is a lot more common than you might think, with a new study out of Texas having recently discovered that at least one in 20 U.S. patients is misdiagnosed by his or her doctor. Published in the British journal BMJ Quality & Safety, the findings show that upwards of 12 million Americans are misdiagnosed annually, often resulting in useless and potentially harmful medical treatments.

Looking at the data was a team of researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston, which compiled about 3,000 medical records from three previous studies for their work. Based on these records, they determined that just over 5 percent of American patients are misdiagnosed for the wrong medical condition.

With about 80 percent of U.S. adults receiving some kind of outpatient care every year, this 5 percent misdiagnosis rate translates to about 12 million people, an astounding number that was previously unknown. This is due to the fact that most misdiagnoses occur at outpatient clinics, which are not typically the focus of patient safety studies.

"Because of the large number of outpatient visits, this is a huge vulnerability," stated Dr. Hardeep Singh, lead author of the study and patient safety researcher at BCM, during an interview with Reuters. "This is a huge number and we need to do something about it."

Faulty medical records could mean even more patients are being misdiagnosed

Based on earlier research conducted by Dr. Singh, medical misdiagnoses are highly problematic because they put patient safety at risk. Missing a serious condition like cancer, for instance, can result in a patient not getting necessary treatment, while diagnosing a patient for a non-existent condition can lead to unnecessary and potentially life-threatening treatment.

"Not all misdiagnoses lead to any severe harm, but many do," he said. "We can extrapolate that almost half of these could cause some amount of severe patient harm."

This suggests that as many as 6 million U.S. patients or more are harmed every year as a result of misdiagnoses. Though not the highest in the world, this figure is significant, highlighting some major flaws in the way Western medicine approaches outpatient care. It also illustrates the failure of conventional doctors to recognize and understand how the human body works.

Up to 20 percent of patients are misdiagnosed, suggests other research

Even these figures, though, could be underestimated. Earlier research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that up to 20 percent of patients are misdiagnosed, bringing the actual number of affected patients to nearly 50 million. As explained in a Washington Post (WP) piece published last year, this exceeds the overall number of drug errors and wrong-site surgeries.

"This is an enormous problem, the hidden part of the iceberg of medical errors that dwarfs" other kinds of mistakes, stated David Newman-Toker, an associate professor of neurology and otolaryngology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to WP. Newman-Toker has been studying diagnostic errors for years and previously helped organize an international conference on this important issue.

As far as what can be done about the situation, Dr. Singh believes more of the focus needs to be directed at outpatient care than just inpatient care. Since eliminating human error is not an option, patients can choose to seek a second opinion, for instance, or ask more questions in the event of a major diagnosis.

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