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How common is failure to diagnose?

When you visit your doctor and/or check into an Arizona hospital, you expect him, her or them to correctly diagnose your symptoms, render the appropriate treatment, prescribe the proper medications and get you back to living your normal life as quickly as possible. Sadly, however, none of the health care professionals involved in your case may live up to your expectations.

As the Washington Post reported, diagnostic errors occur in as many as 30 percent of cases, far more than the number of medical errors relating to such things as medication errors or surgeries on the wrong patient and/or wrong body part. In fact, one recent study found that intensive care unit diagnostic errors cause as many deaths in the U.S. as breast cancer.

Possible causes

Diagnostic errors include those in which a doctor misses, delays or incorrectly diagnoses you, and these errors are far more common than you may think. Most are committed by primary care or emergency room physicians, many of whom fail to order the proper tests or follow up on them when they do. Other experts attribute the increasing number of diagnostic errors to things such as the following:

  • The growing complexity of medicine
  • The growing fragmentation of the health care system
  • The unreasonable time restrictions imposed upon doctors
  • The overuse of expensive high-tech tests
  • The drastic decrease in hands-on diagnostic medicine

Downward spiral

Oftentimes an original incorrect diagnosis leads to years of frustration and pain for the affected patient, and frequently results in his or her death. For instance, beginning in 2008, one woman’s doctors told her that her back pain and chronic fatigue was due to fibromyalgia. Some even diagnosed a psychiatric condition.

Ultimately it turned out that the woman suffered from metastatic breast cancer that had fractured her back when it riddled her spine. By the time doctors made the correct diagnosis in 2010, the woman not only was reduced to life in a wheelchair, but also the onset of terminal Stage IV breast cancer.

Should you receive what you believe is an incorrect diagnosis, or if your symptoms worsen rather than decrease over time, your best strategy is to seek a second or even third medical opinion. This is general information only and not intended to provide legal advice.

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