us sees nearly 12 million outpatient misdiagnoses every year

From surgical checklists to hand washing protocols, efforts are now underway at hospitals across the nation to improve the overall quality of care they provide and to reduce any and all incidences of patient harm.

While these efforts are certainly laudable, some experts are saying that perhaps more effort needs to be directed towards improving the quality of care at doctor’s offices and other outpatient facilities — those places where patients receive not only their primary medical care, but also their initial diagnosis.

In a recently published study in the medical journal BMJ Quality & Safety, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine set out to determine just how high the rate of diagnostic errors is at doctor’s offices and other outpatient facilities here in the U.S.

The researchers started by creating a sample data pool consisting of nearly 3,000 medical records that had been gathered in three prior, unrelated studies. Once the data was collected, they carefully examined every medical record for evidence of a possible diagnostic error.

They discovered the following:

  • Five percent of the medical records in the data pool had a misdiagnosis; when this figure is extrapolated to the 80 percent of adults here in the U.S. who are cared for at outpatient facilities every year, it means roughly 12 million patients, or one in 20, are misdiagnosed at outpatient facilities every year.
  • As many as 50 percent of the misdiagnoses identified in the study could cause serious patient harm such as postponed cancer treatment or unnecessary treatment.
  • Errors in the medical records in the data pool could mean that the rate of annual outpatient diagnostic errors here in the U.S. is actually even higher than determined.

“Because of the large number of outpatient visits, this is a huge vulnerability,” said the primary author of the study. “This is a huge number and we need to do something about it.”

According to the researchers, the point of the study wasn’t to generate fear, but rather to alert lawmakers, medical associations, patient advocates and healthcare facilities of the existence of and much-needed dialogue about the problem.

For the sake of our loved ones, let’s hope this dialogue takes place sooner than later …

Have you had any experiences with misdiagnoses at your doctor’s office or another outpatient facility? If so, how bad was it and what action did you take?

Source: Reuters, “About 12 million U.S. outpatients misdiagnosed annually: study,” Curtis Skinner, April 17, 2014

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *