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Medical Misdiagnosis Causes Nearly 800,000 Deaths and Disabilities Annually

A doctor explains a diagnosis to an anxious patient.

The first step to properly treat a medical condition is to diagnose it correctly. Doctors need to identify the type of illness a patient has so that they can prescribe the right medication, perform the right surgery, or take whatever measures are needed to help the patient recover.

Unfortunately, when doctors do not follow established diagnostic standards of care, patients can be seriously harmed. According to a new report from the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute Center for Diagnostic Excellence, an estimated 371,000 patients die each year because their medical conditions are incorrectly diagnosed, and another 424,000 are permanently disabled.

“Diagnostic errors are, by a wide margin, the most under-resourced public health crisis we face," Dr. David Newman-Toker, director of the Johns Hopkins diagnostic excellence center, told USA Today.

Five medical conditions account for nearly 40% of deaths and disabilities

According to the Johns Hopkins report, of the nearly 800,000 deaths and disabilities stemming from misdiagnosis each year, just five medical conditions account for nearly 40 percent:

  • Stroke
  • Sepsis
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood clots (which can cause conditions such as pulmonary embolism)
  • Lung cancer

Strokes, in particular, are among the most commonly diagnosed serious medical conditions. While some strokes show obvious, unambiguous symptoms such as paralysis on one side of the body, many only present with dizziness and vertigo, which are easily confused with inner ear disease. Doctors need to be trained to distinguish between dizziness caused by stroke and dizziness caused by inner ear problems.

Still, other strokes only cause headaches, which can be the result of many different underlying causes.

Doctors need to be alert for frequently misdiagnosed conditions

As the study authors pointed out, many instances of misdiagnosis are preventable with adequate training and diagnostic resources. Heart attacks, for example, are only misdiagnosed in 1.5% of cases, but that wasn't always so. Both the medical community and government regulators have made a sustained investment in reducing heart attack misdiagnosis for decades to bring that number down.

Many medical conditions have easily confused symptoms, but doctors need to follow appropriate diagnostic standards of care to distinguish between those symptoms and get to the underlying cause. In particular, when a certain medical condition is known to be commonly misdiagnosed, doctors need to be especially alert to all of the possibilities and react accordingly, which may include ordering follow-up tests or referring the patient to a specialist for a more precise diagnosis.

If you were injured or lost a loved one due to misdiagnosis, we can help

Failure to follow diagnostic standards of care is a serious matter. When doctors misdiagnose illnesses and patients are seriously harmed, they need to be held accountable. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can get to the bottom of what happened, explain your legal options, find the right experts, and pursue accountability and justice.

If you were injured or lost a loved one due to a misdiagnosis of a medical condition, we would be honored to listen to your story and explain how we may be able to help. Schedule your free consultation with the Lancione Law Firm today.

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