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How common is medical misdiagnosis?

When you visit an outpatient clinic or rush to the emergency room, you put your trust and your life in the hands of dedicated medical professionals. Most doctors and nurses understand the weight of this trust and do everything they can to uphold it. However, an occasional mistake is inevitable, even for the most conscientious of providers.

In fact, medical errors are more common than you may think. According to BMJ Quality & Safety, at least 12 million Americans fall victim to this type of medical negligence every year. That equates to 1 in 20 people who visit emergency rooms and outpatient clinics throughout the nation.

Factors that contribute to a misdiagnosis

The high incidence of medical misdiagnosis that occurs in outpatient clinics and emergency rooms can be the result of the way the system itself is set up. Doctors typically must rush from one patient to the other and often do not spend an adequate amount of time with each patient, which could lead to errors.

Doctors in these settings often do not have full access to patients’ medical history because they do not have the benefit of seeing the same patients regularly and must diagnose patients based on the information they have available. If the patients do not mention critical information, doctors may not be able to make an accurate diagnosis.

Medical testing is another area with the potential for mistakes. Doctors may order the wrong type of screening tests or misread test results, or the test results may not come back in a timely manner. Lack of communication between providers and other medical professionals such as radiologists or laboratory technicians may also contribute to diagnostic errors.

Steps to protect yourself

If you visit the emergency room or an outpatient clinic, be sure to tell the attending physician all of your symptoms and past medical history. If you feel something is not right, voice your concern. If you leave the clinic without a diagnosis or feel leery about the diagnosis you received, you may want to seek a second opinion.

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