Doctors Are Most Likely to Misdiagnose These 3 Conditions

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“Inaccurate or delayed diagnoses are the most catastrophic and costly of medical errors and will affect most of us in our lifetimes.” So says the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine. Almost 12,000 malpractice claims were examined in a paper published in the journal Diagnosis and titled “Serious misdiagnosis-related harms in malpractice claims: The ‘Big Three’ – vascular events, infections, and cancers.”

The first of the so-called Big Three, vascular events, includes strokes, heart attacks and blood clots. The second, infections, includes pneumonia, meningitis/encephalitis and spinal abscess. Doctors working in hospitals and emergency rooms have seen all kinds of infections and complications — from easily treatable urinary tract infections to potentially deadly sepsis. But some viruses scare them more than others, and they are more common than you think — and these are the infections even doctors are afraid of.

The third, cancers, is comprised primarily of lung, colon, breast, skin and prostate cancers. There will be nearly 1.8 million new cancer diagnoses and 606,900 cancer deaths in the United States in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society. These are the most common types of cancer in men and women.

David E. Newman-Toker, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University and the lead author of this scientific paper, commented about the study to Medscape: “Diagnostic errors are the most common, most catastrophic, and most costly medical errors both for society and for individual patients. A place to start is with the ‘big three’ — cancers, infections, and vascular events. Together these account for about 75% of the serious harms from diagnostic error.”

Errors in diagnosis are 34% of all medical errors that do “serious harm.” Additionally, 64% of these errors cause death or permanent disability, according to the research paper. The authors also found that “Diagnostic errors cause substantial preventable harm, but national estimates vary widely from 40,000 to 4 million annually.”

A look at the reasons Americans die shows the extent to which these three sets of diseases are such a major issue. According to the CDC, among the 10 leading causes of death in the United States are heart disease (vascular), stroke (vascular), cancer, influenza and pneumonia (infection), and chronic lower respiratory diseases (infection). This reinforces the importance of early and correct diagnosis. These 10 diseases kill over 2 million Americans a year.

What can be done about the problem? The Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine says it is a combination of factors. At the top of the list are teamwork between patients and health care professionals, more education in how the diagnostic process works and more investment in training to prevent diagnostic errors. Part of the process is for patients to ask questions and, more importantly, to go for regular checkups. The latter is not often the case, especially among men. These are 50 health tips every man should know.


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