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A 2014 study shows that at least 5 percent of adults, approximately 12 million Americans, are misdiagnosed in outpatient clinics in the U.S. every year.

When we go to a hospital or an emergency room with an ailment, we expect an accurate diagnosis of our condition. Unfortunately, we do not always get an accurate diagnosis. Recently, the West Virginia Record noted that several health-care providers in the Wheeling area are being sued for their alleged failure to diagnose a spinal injury. It is asserted that a man sustained an injury in a riding lawnmower accident. Physicians initially advised that the man did not sustain a serious injury. When the man’s pain continued, accompanied by a loss of mobility, it was learned that the lawnmower accident had resulted in a spinal cord injury. Due to the fact that the injury was not diagnosed earlier, the man is now said to be a quadriplegic.

Diagnostic errors, such as the misdiagnosis of a medical condition, are the leading cause of successful medical malpractice claims in the United States according to Advisory Group Consultants. At least 5 percent of adults-approximately 12 million Americans-are misdiagnosed in outpatient clinics in the U.S. every year according to a new study published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety. Researchers defined a misdiagnosis as those times when a patient presented clear symptoms of a readily identifiable ailment which were either missed by the physician or not properly followed up on. Approximately half of the missed diagnosis had the potential to be harmful to a patient’s health according to the researchers.

Some diagnostic errors commonly occur in the emergency room sitting. Citing a Johns Hopkins University study, National Public Radio reports that ER doctors often miss signs of stroke in women, those under 45 years of age and minorities. The study revealed that many stroke victims admitted to a hospital had earlier visited an ER with complaints of headaches and dizziness. Unfortunately, many patients were diagnosed with relatively benign conditions such as migraines or were sent home with no diagnosis at all. Of those misdiagnosed in the ER, 25 percent returned within two days “in the midst of an obvious stroke.” It is estimated that up to 165,000 stroke cases are misdiagnosed each year.

Diagnostic errors are not confined to hospitals or ERs. Advisory Group Consultants, citing a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, observes that diagnoses are frequently missed by primary care physicians. It is estimated that PCPs misdiagnose more than 150,000 patients each year. Researchers found that PCPs missed a “wide array of common diagnoses” among which were kidney failure, congestive heart failure, cancer and urinary tract infections.

Why problems exist

Kaiser Health News published an article explaining some of the reasons why diagnostic errors are a significant problem. One physician interviewed for the article said that diagnostic errors are the result of “flawed ways of thinking” coupled with physician negligence. In too many instances, for example, doctors simply fail to follow-up on test results. Also blamed was the time pressure “squeezing” health-care providers coupled with overreliance on technologically sophisticated tests which do not supplant the old fashioned but highly valuable “traditional hands-on skills” of a doctor. Finally, there is the problem of physician overconfidence due to a lack of proper mechanisms to track diagnostic failures.

Seeking Compensation

If you have reason to believe that an injury was sustained by yourself or a loved one due to a diagnostic error, you should contact an attorney experienced in handling West Virginia medical malpractice cases. An attorney will investigate the matter and determine whether you have a potential claim for compensation.

Keywords: misdiagnosis