Experts estimate that each year, as many as 12-million Americans visit an outpatient clinic and are wrongly diagnosed. The high rates of diagnostic errors in outpatient clinics remains unaddressed while health care experts and industry officials continue to focus on hospital-based diagnostic and other medical errors.
According to a new analysis of data from several published studies, primary clinics, doctors’ offices and other outpatient settings account for a large percentage of all diagnostic errors recorded every year. Statistics suggest that as many as 1 in 20 people who visit an outpatient clinic are misdiagnosed.
Misdiagnoses are serious medical errors because, at the very least they increase the risk of delayed treatment. In the worst scenario, they result in fatalities. A misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor fails to accurately identify a medical condition. When the patient’s condition is wrongly diagnosed, the wrong treatment may begin and the original condition may be left to worsen.
Little is known about the reasons for the high rates of misdiagnoses in outpatient facilities. However, it is possible that these errors occur because primary care physicians are simply too overworked to invest the time necessary to accurately diagnose a patient’s condition. An overworked physician is less likely to order the correct diagnostic tests needed to accurately diagnose the patient’s condition. Doctors may also have trouble interpreting the results of diagnostic tests in an outpatient setting.
Health care experts need to focus on the high rates of misdiagnoses in primary care settings rather than focusing all of their efforts in reducing the risk of misdiagnoses in hospitals. There is a presumption that diagnostic errors are much more dangerous when they are committed in an inpatient setting.
Misdiagnoses can be just as devastating in an outpatient primary care setting. For instance, failure to diagnose cancer is a dangerous error in a primary care setting which can lead to life-saving treatment being delayed. The longer a patient’s treatment for cancer is delayed, the higher the chance of the disease progressing into the more dangerous latter stages. In fact, cancer misdiagnoses are some of the most dangerous and some of the most expensive misdiagnoses or diagnostic errors in outpatient settings. Cancer misdiagnoses are very often linked to expensive medical malpractice claims.
Researchers speculate that using technology to aid diagnosis and better follow-up of patients after their initial visit could help primary care physicians in reducing the risk of diagnostic errors.
The Indiana medical malpractice attorneys at Montross Miller Muller Mendelson & Kennedy LLP represent persons injured as a result of medical negligence across Indiana.