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Alarming Study Shows 20% of Patients with Serious Conditions Initially Misdiagnosed

by Staff Contributor on April 6, 2017
Lifestyle

New research published this past Tuesday shows that over twenty percent of patients who went after a second opinion at one of the leading medical institutions in the United States had been misdiagnosed by their primary care providers.

According to the results of the study, twelve percent of the people who requested that specialists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, review their cases has received accurate diagnoses. The remainder were given diagnoses that were compatible with the conclusions of the doctors of the Mayo Clinic who assessed their conditions.

The findings are typically similar to other research on diagnostic fault, but these results offer more evidence for advocates who say such results prove that the current health-care system can certainly be improved.

Senior fellow at the research institute RTI International and founder of the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, Mark L. Graber, stated, “Diagnosis is extremely hard. There are ten thousand disease and only two hundred to three hundred symptoms.”

Graber is not associated with the Mayo Clinic research, which was published in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice.

In 2015, it was predicted by the National Academy of Medicine that most people will receive an erroneous or delayed diagnosis at least once in their lifetime, with grave consequences in certain cases. The entity a specific estimate that twelve million people are misdiagnosed per year—this accounts for five percent of adults who seek out patient care. This in it of itself is alarming, but what is even more concerning is that this report also declared that diagnostic error is a relatively under-measured and understudied facet of patient safety.

According to previously conducted research that was included in this new study, diagnostic errors “contribute to approximately 10 percent of patient deaths.” Additionally, this same research proves that diagnostic errors “account for 6 to 17 percent of adverse events in hospitals.” Despite the fact that it is challenging to accurately determine, Graber estimates that the rate of misdiagnosis takes place in somewhere between ten and twenty percent of medical cases.

“Diagnostic error is an area where we need more research, more study and more information,” declared James M. Naessens, a professor of health services research at the Mayo Clinic, leader of its study. He followed this remark with the statement that, “The second opinion is a good approach for certain patients to figure out what’s there and to keep costs down.”

The research retrospectively analyzed the cases of 286 patients who had seen primary care physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners in 2009 and 2010. They found that rough two-thirds of these patients were younger than 64 years of age, and most of them were female.

Those 286 people sought further advice from the internal medicine department of the Mayo Clinic, some with and some without the aid of their initial provider. According to Naessens, this differentiates the group from the general population in a certain sense, because their circumstances were grave enough to merit an additional look by some of the leading physicians in the nation.

Naessens further declared that, despite the research findings, “It’s not going to be 20 percent wrong every time [a patient goes to see a doctor].”

In sixty-two cases, roughly twenty-one percent, the second diagnosis was “distinctly different” from the initial one, as reported by the researchers who conducted this study. In thirty-six cases, about twelve percent, the diagnoses were identical. Meanwhile, in the other 188 cases, the initial diagnoses were correct to a certain extent, but they were “better defined/refined” by the second opinion, according to the study.

Naessens and Graber both voiced the opinion that a second opinion is valuable whenever a patient is told he or she has a serious condition, like cancer, or needs surgery—even if an additionally visit is a further expense. They believe that supplementary advice can save lives and money, in the long run.

After all, as Graber put it, “Doctors are humans, and they make the same cognitive mistakes we all make.” He further advised that, “If you are given a serious diagnosis, or you’re not responding the way you should [to medication], a second opinion is a very good idea. Fresh eyes catch mistakes.” Thus, patients shouldn’t be reluctant to seek another opinion, even if it is just in case.

Featured Image via Wikimedia.

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Staff Contributor
Born and raised New Yorker with foreign parents; aftermaths include: having the tendency to switch languages mid-sentence, an endless stock of funny stories (normally founded on cultural/linguistic misunderstanding), a love of travel and reading, an excessive amount of curiosity (not nosy, just intrigued!), a sincere appreciation for food and coffee, and the ability to react to just about any situation with an infectious bout of laughter.
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