Misdiagnoses Continue to Present Problems

Over the past century, medical science has seen a vast number of improvements. Indeed, researchers have not only developed new treatments to cure once life-threatening illnesses, but have also invented new techniques to help doctors diagnose even the most obscure diseases. Nevertheless, despite an ever increasing array of technological tools and training, millions of patients are misdiagnosed in the United States each year. What is worse, these misdiagnoses can sometimes lead to serious, even fatal complications.

The numbers are staggering. According to statistics published in the American Journal of Medicine, 15 percent of all medical cases in developed countries are misdiagnosed each year. A study by the Mayo Clinic indicates that the problem may be even worse than expected and estimates that approximately 26 percent of all medical cases are misdiagnosed yearly. The problem is even worse for cancer patients: according to a study published by the Journal of Clinical Oncology, almost 44 percent of some types of cancer are misdiagnosed.

Misdiagnoses are a problem not only because they cause patients to undergo unnecessary procedures and treatments, but also because they dramatically increase the cost of healthcare. If estimates about the number of misdiagnoses are correct, then approximately one third of the $2.7 trillion spent in the United States on healthcare each year is being wasted.

Common Causes of Misdiagnoses

No matter what the condition, several factors contribute to the occurrence of misdiagnoses:

  • Miscommunication: with the continued reliance on paper medical files, doctors can sometimes miss important information recorded by another doctor or medical professional. In addition, the results of important tests can sometimes be delayed or misread.
  • Overconfidence: in some cases, a doctor may be too confident in his ability to accurately diagnose a particular condition, which may lead to an unwillingness to order tests or to consult with someone else.
  • Bad training: today, most doctors practice evidence based medicine, which dictates that treatment decisions should be based upon statistically proven data. While this approach can be helpful, it can also cause doctors to adopt a far too rigid treatment approach, which can sometimes lead to complications.
  • Overspecialization: many physicians choose to focus their practices too such a degree that they may lack in-depth training on a given condition, making it difficult for them to recommend proper treatment strategies.
  • Lack of time: with the increasing demand for in-depth care, many doctors report that they are unable to spend more than 15 minutes with patients at a time.

Focusing on a Solution

Unfortunately, despite the seriousness of the problem, far too little attention has been given to the prevention of misdiagnoses. Further study, combined with a revision of training methods, are the first steps in reducing the incidence of the problem.