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Study: Physician negligence in diagnoses may affect 12 million

For many Charleston patients, it's unthinkable that a doctor could make a health condition worse. Physician negligence can do that when there's a misdiagnosis. While West Virginia doctors may not detect a health problem like cancer immediately, they are expected to reach a conclusion in a timely manner without ignoring symptoms.

It hasn't been easy for researchers to count how many patients have been misdiagnosed. Most health care safety studies have been conducted in hospitals, where patients were treated for known conditions, or focused on malpractice claims, which represent a small sample of patients. Researchers for a study recently published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety looked outside hospitals and courtrooms for evidence of doctors' failures to diagnose.

The report's information was gathered from patient records in clinics. Researchers looked at the frequency of sudden, repeat office visits, which are an indicator that a health condition got worse or didn't improve. For part of the study, medical records of an isolated segment of colon and lung cancer patients were reviewed. The misdiagnosis rates then were applied to a national level, where about 80 percent of adults schedule a physician's appointment annually.

The study found that about five percent of all adult patients seen yearly by doctors were misdiagnosed. This figure represents approximately 12 million people. For an estimated six million adults, doctor errors were harmful.

The researchers determined that these were low estimates since not all diagnostic mistakes could be detected through a medical records' review. The implication is that even more patients might be suffering from doctors' errors than the researchers found. The study urged other researchers, lawmakers and health care providers to concentrate patient safety efforts at the diagnostic level.

A delayed diagnosis may not cause harm. However, when it does, a patient may pursue damages if a misdiagnosis was due to doctor negligence.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Misdiagnosis Is A Lot More Common Than You Might Think" Rachael Rettner, Apr. 17, 2014

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