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What are misdiagnosis and missed diagnosis?

Mistakes in diagnosis can have tragic and catastrophic consequences for patients. A misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis happens too frequently and can be the underlying basis of medical malpractice claims.

A misdiagnosis occurs when a physician tells you that you have a sickness or condition but identifies the wrong illness. For example, a physician may diagnosis the flu even though the patient has Lyme disease.

A missed diagnosis is when no diagnosis is made. This can result in no or inaccurate treatment. A prevalent misdiagnosis is a woman referred to a gastroenterologist for stomach symptoms even though she had ovarian cancer and should have been sent to a gynecologist.

Sometimes, a mis- and missed diagnosis may not have consequences because the ailment naturally run its course and ends without any harm to the patient. Other times, however, the diagnosis may be so inaccurate that is the basis of wrong of missed treatment causing death or severe weakness.

Compiling the exact percentage of missed or misdiagnosis has been difficult. But experts estimate a rate of five percent for outpatients. This translates to an inaccurate diagnosis in at least one of 20 doctor visits.

There are no mechanisms for reporting mis- and missed diagnosis. Autopsies may be requested. But these are expensive, and experts usually do not request autopsies unless the information may be valuable. Or it is unlikely that a physician will recommend an autopsy if they suspect they made a mis- or missed diagnosis.

If you continue to suffer symptoms after receiving medical treatment or suspect that your diagnosis is wrong, you have options. First, you and your doctor may use differential diagnosis where you take clues from symptoms, tests, medical knowledge and other input to make a list of all possible diagnosis. Then, eliminate the diagnosis that do not fit.

After performing differential diagnosis, your doctor should then refer you to the appropriate specialist to care for the new suspected diagnosis. If you do not use differential diagnosis, you may also seek a second opinion from a qualified doctor.

A person who suffers harm from a missed or wrong diagnosis or their family may be entitled to damages. An attorney can help pursue this legal action.