The number of Americans who suffer permanent consequences from medical misdiagnoses is higher than previously thought, according to a new study, but there are some simple steps you can take to lower your risk.
A study from researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that an estimated 795,000 Americans suffer permanent disability or death as the result of medical misdiagnoses, and there's a chance the number could even be as high as 1.02 million people.
Of the patients who are misdiagnosed, the researchers said, nearly half (371,000) die.
"Diagnostic errors are, by a wide margin, the most under-resourced public health crisis we face," said Dr. David Newman-Toker, director of the Johns Hopkins diagnostic excellence center.
According to the research, these diagnostic errors often occur when patients exhibit symptoms other than those most commonly associated with the disease.
In the case of strokes, we all know the classic symptoms (weakness on one side, slurred speech, etc.).
However, during an appearance on CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper," Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said there could also be other signs, such as dizziness, headaches, and fatigue, that are more likely to be dismissed by doctors as something less severe.
While adverse outcomes are still rare, according to Gupta, there are some simple questions patients can ask their doctor to lower their risk even further:
- What could be causing my problem?
- What else could it be?
- When will I get my test results, and what should I do to follow up?
In particular, Gupta called the second one a "very important follow-up question you should ask." For doctors who see hundreds and thousands of patients, it may be necessary to help them think outside the box and beyond the day-to-day.
The good news, according to the research authors, is that only 15 account for more than 50% of the misdiagnoses. Better awareness of less common symptoms and treatments for those diseases could lead to less frequent diagnostic errors.
One example is lung cancer. The American Cancer Society now recommends people with a high risk of lung cancer get a low-dose CT scan. This screening tool has a much better chance than traditional chest X-rays of detecting the disease early.
While we would all love for the doctors to get it right every time, we are talking about complex diseases with sometimes mysterious presentations. Patient awareness and questioning, and ongoing research can be our most potent weapons against this health crisis.
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