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MISDIAGNOSIS has been described by some medical research to be the most prevalent error made by healthcare providers, as well as the most catastrophic and costly. A recent medical study suggested that 40,000 to 80,000 preventable deaths in U.S. hospitals each year may be related to diagnostic errors. Attempts to study this problem have looked into where, why and how clinician decisions have gone awry, delving into such concepts as confirmation bias and overreliance on pattern recognition. While these efforts may prove beneficial in significantly lessening the problem someday, human error is and will continue to exist in the medical field well into the future, as misdiagnoses continue to occur in substantial numbers. 

Physicians may not obtain adequate testing for the signs and symptoms a patient is exhibiting. He or she may misinterpret lab results or fail to follow-up with proper imaging. Alternatively, too much reliance on test results and failing to properly correlate that information with the patient’s symptoms can lead physicians astray as well. Miscommunication within the healthcare team also may lead to grievous errors. Doctors may arrive at a decision too early, in which case it can be very difficult to consider other reasonable alternatives, and the true cause is eliminated before it is fully evaluated. A busy or distracted physician may too easily accept a common diagnosis, and deem an investigation of a significant, more serious concern unnecessary. Some providers may depend too much on their own knowledge or experience to reach a conclusion, without consulting a specialist who may have more insight into a particular issue.

A diagnostic error can lead to harmful, sometimes disastrous consequences in a number of ways, including unnecessary treatment as well as a critical delay in treating, or complete failure to treat the actual condition, illness or injury. And by the time the correct diagnosis is realized, the physical, emotional and financial cost to patients and/or family members can be staggering. An example: missing an opportunity to diagnose a cancer at an early treatable \ curable stage. Faulty clinical decision-making causing a delay in diagnosis of a stroke or a heart attack can have devastating consequences.

Analyzing the thought processes of physicians who have misdiagnosed a patient’s condition is an important step in attempting to provide patients and their families with some much needed answers. Pat has been engaging in such assessments for three plus decades. Patients and their families deserve and have a right to expect proper diagnostic efforts from their physicians and healthcare providers. When those persons fail in that responsibility and the patients suffer, the law is there to provide relief.


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