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How common is failure to diagnose?

When you get sick in Montana, the first thing you expect your doctor or the emergency room to do is to diagnose your symptoms. Then you expect them to give you the appropriate treatment and prescribe whatever medications you need to get you back to your busy life. Unfortunately, however, the health care professionals you trust may not live up to your expectations.

As reported in the Washington Post, diagnostic errors happen all too often. Up to 30 percent of patients receive an incorrect diagnosis, far more than those patients who become the victims of other types of medical errors. Unbelievably, one recent study found that diagnostic errors in intensive care units account for as many U.S. deaths annually as breast cancer.

Possible causes

You can become the victim of a diagnostic error if your doctor or hospital misses, delays or incorrectly diagnoses you. Primary care and ER physicians make the highest number of diagnostic errors. Oftentimes, diagnostic errors occur from the failure to order the proper tests. Other times, they occur from things like the following:

  • Medicine continues to become ever more complex.
  • Health care systems continue to become more fragmented.
  • Doctors must adhere to ever more restrictive time schedules.
  • Expensive high-tech tests tend to be overused.
  • Hands-on diagnostic medicine continues to decline.

Downward spiral

Unfortunately, an original incorrect diagnosis can lead to years of frustration and pain for you. In extreme cases, it can lead to your death. As an example, one woman received an incorrect diagnosis in 2008. Her doctors told her that fibromyalgia caused her chronic back pain and fatigue. Other doctors told her she suffered from a psychiatric condition.

Not until 2010 did the woman receive the correct diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer. By then the cancer had fractured her back, riddled her spine and reduced her to life in a wheelchair. The cancer had also progressed to terminal Stage IV.

If your symptoms become worse and you believe you received an incorrect diagnosis, your best strategy is to seek a second opinion or even a third or fourth if your symptoms continue to worsen. This is educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.

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