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More than 1 in 20 Americans misdiagnosed each year

South Carolina residents may be surprised to learn how frequently doctors make mistakes when diagnosing their patients' symptoms. A survey published on April 16 in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety reports that up to 12 million Americans, which equates to more than one in 20 adults, are misdiagnosed each year. The study was conducted by a Houston-based veterans affairs center that compiled research from several sources, including medical malpractice claims.

Finding complete and accurate data presented a problem for the researchers. Malpractice claims do not reflect the overall population, and many misdiagnosis cases involve multiple trips to a doctor. The research team examined hundreds of medical records, and they paid particular attention to patients who had returned for medical treatment shortly after their initial visits. The researchers felt that these cases indicated that a chronic condition may have been missed during the original consultation. The team then extrapolated the results for the entire population based on the assumption that 80 percent of American adults visit a doctor each year.

An alarming conclusion reached by the researchers from a prior study was that as many as half of all diagnosis errors may lead to serious harm. This is particularly true for serious medical conditions, such as cancer, where early detection can significantly improve a patient's chances of recovery. The research team also pointed out that medical records may not always document this type of error and that the true rate of medical misdiagnosis could be even higher.

Individuals who suffer due to medical errors may have legal remedies available to them. Hospitals and doctors have considerable resources, and the regulations and laws in this are complex. An attorney with experience in this area may be able to assist the victims of medical malpractice as they seek to hold negligent medical professionals responsible for their mistakes.

Source: Mother Nature Network, "12 million misdiagnoses occur yearly in U.S.", Rachael Rettner, April 17, 2014

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