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1 in 20 Patients Are Misdiagnosed Every Year, Study Finds

Update Date: Apr 17, 2014 09:58 AM EDT

Medical misdiagnosis can lead to dangerous situations. Even though doctors go through rigorous training to learn about the many different diseases and health problems that exist in the world, some illnesses will continue to slip under the radar. According to a new report, roughly 12 million people are misdiagnosed at an outpatient setting each year.

"The question is, can we eliminate human error, and the answer is no," said Dr. Hardeep Singh, lead author of the paper, reported by Boston Globe. "We have just now begun to understand what [these errors] are and what we can do."

For this study, Dr. Singh from Baylor College of Medicine and his team of researchers reviewed data collected from three previously published studies. These studies were centered on the type of medical care American adults received in outpatient settings, such as a primary care physician's office or clinics. Two of the studies involved cancer and one was focused on identifying general primary care diagnostic errors.

The researchers calculated that roughly five percent or one in every 20 people gets misdiagnosed every year. Around 50 percent of these misdiagnosed cases could lead to fatal outcomes. In order to improve medical care and reduce these mistakes, the researchers stated that medical professionals need to work together more efficiently. Patients must also be more proactive in informing their doctors about all their symptoms and problems no matter how small they might be.

"One shouldn't be walking out of the office pondering," said Dr. Lewis Levy, vice president of Corporate Medical Quality at Best Doctors and an internist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Kenmore Square. "Don't be shy. Be curious."

The study, "The frequency of diagnostic errors in outpatient care: estimations from three large observational studies involving US adult populations," was published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety.

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