Are Medical Misdiagnoses Common & How Bad Are They?
Did you know that medical errors are the most common cause of accidental deaths? They often originate from incorrect medical diagnoses.
Going into hospital is a stressful experience as it is, but the experience can be made even more fraught if you find out that mistakes have been made during your treatment. Medical misdiagnosis is inconvenient and frustrating at best and deadly at worst. But exactly how common is it?
There is evidence to suggest that medical misdiagnosis is on the rise. A recent study by the National Institute for Health Research Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (NIHR GM PSTRC) found that more than half (58%) of diagnostic errors occurred in GP surgeries. Out of 2,100 patient records, the researchers uncovered 89 missed diagnoses. The study concluded that there were often multiple reasons for misdiagnosis but that the majority happened during patient consultations. With over 300 million GP visits each year, this would mean a significant number of patients are at risk of misdiagnosis every year, putting millions of people at risk of avoidable harm.
The issue isn’t solely confined to general practice either, with the research showing diagnostic errors in hospitals, such as referrals not being acted upon, tests not being performed, and results being misinterpreted. Hospital negligence claims are also on the rise.
A study by Cancer Research UK found that doctors failed to initially pick up two out of three cases of cancer. The results of studies like these are worrying and lead to the question – why are so many people misdiagnosed? How can patients prove a misdiagnosis?
There are many possible reasons for medical misdiagnosis. They are unfortunate problems that lead to dangerous medical errors.
It’s well documented that the NHS is struggling more than ever, and GPs are no exception to this. They often have very limited appointment times and are under pressure to deal with patients as quickly as possible to keep surgeries running on time. Hospital consultants are under similar pressures and oftentimes will be meeting a patient for the first time and only have a very brief duration to take a history, perform examinations, order tests and make a possible diagnosis.
It’s usually impossible to make a definitive diagnosis without some kind of diagnostic investigation or testing, whether that’s a simple blood test or physical examination or something more complex, such as an MRI scan. Long waiting times for investigations and results and misinterpretation of the results can also lead to misdiagnosis.
A newly qualified doctor or one inexperienced in their current area of practice may be more likely to make an incorrect diagnosis or miss a diagnosis. On the other hand, doctors who have been practising in their field for a long time, may become overconfident and rush to a diagnosis too quickly without considering the patient holistically.
We no longer see one family doctor for all of our care. Instead, we will often see different healthcare professionals for different issues, and no single medical professional will have the full picture of our health. This is particularly true for people with multiple health conditions, who may be under several different specialists who may not necessarily communicate with each other. This can lead to missed opportunities for a timely, accurate diagnosis.
After an initial consultation, a person may be told to “come back if it gets worse” but patients may not always be the best judge of this or even know what signs and symptoms to look out for. Follow-up appointments may not be made or if they are, they might be cancelled, postponed or even missed by the patient themselves. This can all contribute to the likelihood of a misdiagnosis.
The Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine (SIDM) reports that medical misdiagnosis is far more common than many people realise. Additionally, healthcare platform, Livi conducted research which found that misdiagnosis may be even more prevalent among women, with over half of the 2,000 women polled believing they had not been listened to by doctors and had been misdiagnosed as a result.
As patients, we put trust our medical providers and when given a diagnosis by a doctor, we assume that it is correct and that the treatment options we’re given will help. However, if you continue to experience symptoms despite treatment or don’t feel your issues are being taken seriously, then it’s important that you advocate for yourself and insist upon further investigations. You can also request to be referred to a specialist or for a second opinion.