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When a diagnosis is a misdiagnosis

In Washington, patients are diagnosed with medical ailments on a daily basis. Timely diagnosis of a serious and life-changing medical condition is imperative to taking steps towards proper treatment or even a cure if available. Yet, some patients are misdiagnosed and possibly at a greater frequency than many realize.

The National Center for Policy Analysis reports that it is estimated that up to 20 percent of diagnoses are actually misdiagnoses. Quantifying the numbers may be complicated by the fact that many doctors are not aware of an erroneous diagnosis under their watch, because a patient may change doctors or not learn of the true diagnosis for years to come. It is indicated that the vast majority of physicians believe that misdiagnosis is preventable, yet many are hesitant to anonymously report a misdiagnosis, even when risk of substantial harm is evident. Most incidents of malpractice due to incorrect diagnosis do not result in a lawsuit. However, misdiagnosis is nonetheless the number one cause of medical malpractice legal actions.

It is noted that up to 75 percent of misdiagnoses are due to negligence but there may be legitimate concern about the intentional misdiagnosis made for personal gain, such as that reported on by USA Today. In that case, the physician was accused in a class action suit of purposely misdiagnosing epilepsy in children and promoting epilepsy related treatment for the purpose of increasing his salary. There were tremendous physical and emotional repercussions of longstanding duration to the children stemming from the alleged misdiagnoses.

The fact that misdiagnosing is a serious problem in the health industry is clear. What is not clear is how the industry will reduce the incidence and severity of the misdiagnosing of severe, even life-threatening medical conditions going forward.

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