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How common are diagnostic errors?

Receiving a misdiagnosis from a doctor in Maryland can have serious repercussions. It could delay needed treatment for a serious illness or subject you to unnecessary treatment, perhaps even contraindicated treatment for your actual condition. People have died because of misdiagnoses, while others have sustained lifelong injuries.

Because "diagnostic error" does not appear as a category in patient safety databases, it is impossible to know how many instances of delayed or inaccurate diagnoses occur. However, Managed Care Magazine cites a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that extrapolated the number of hospital deaths due to misdiagnoses and delayed diagnoses to be 40,000 to 80,000 every year.

To put that number into perspective, if the statistics are accurate, it means that a patient dies in an American hospital because of a diagnostic error every nine minutes. More than half of the patients who experienced a medical error, 59 percent, identified a diagnostic error as all or part of the problem according to the results of another survey by the National Patient Safety Foundation.

Diagnostic errors not only represent a human cost but a hefty financial cost as well. Due to their prevalence and the large medical malpractice payouts that stem from them, one estimate puts the yearly impact of diagnostic errors on our economy at $100 billion per year.

A coalition of patient advocacy groups, medical societies and provider organizations have taken the initiative to improve diagnoses within their organizations through the identification and implementation of practical steps. Patients also have a role to play by voicing their concerns, asking questions and reviewing medical records.

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.

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