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Study: Medical Misdiagnosis is a System-Wide Problem

Report: One in 20 Americans seeking outpatient care will experience misdiagnosis

A new report by a committee of the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine warns wrong or late medical diagnosis is a serious and pervasive problem in America's healthcare system. The study found that most people will experience at least one medical misdiagnosis during their lifetime, sometimes with devastating consequences.

A misdiagnosis can have a full range of consequences, according to the report, from the benign to very serious. A wrong diagnosis may delay or avert proper treatment. Sometimes, the wrong kind of treatment may be implemented due to a misdiagnosis, leading to dire financial and psychological effects on the patient. According to the report, about 12 million adults in the U.S. will experience some form of misdiagnosis every year.

The committee’s report highlights several factors contributing to a breakdown of the diagnostic process. Shortcomings of our healthcare system’s diagnostic process include insufficient communication between physicians and patients, a healthcare system ill suited to aid in the diagnostic process, poor feedback from healthcare providers about diagnostic performance, and a culture in the healthcare industry that discourages doctors from revealing diagnostic errors thereby deterring progress with the issue.

The National Academy of Science made headlines in 1999 when it published a study estimating 100,000 patients die every year as a result of some mistake with their treatment. While the 1999 report did not focus on misdiagnosis, the latest study highlights much misdiagnosis may contribute to the medical malpractice problem.

The report calls the need to overhaul the nation’s diagnostic process a moral necessity. Such change, the committee believes, will require the collective will of healthcare providers, hospitals, patients, and lawmakers. The National Academy of Science’s committee believes a collaborative effort may be the only viable option, given the expanding complexity of our nation’s healthcare system.


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