Researchers have determined just how many Americans are misdiagnosed in outpatient settings on an annual basis and their conclusions will almost certainly shock you. In addition to individuals who are affected by diagnosis errors while hospitalized, approximately 12 million adults are misdiagnosed in outpatient settings every year. Put another way, one out of every 20 Americans is misdiagnosed in outpatient settings alone annually.

If an individual visits his or her physician and is diagnosed with an ear infection, even though he or she should be diagnosed with infections in both ears, the patient is unlikely to suffer harm as a result of this misdiagnosis. The same medication used to treat one ear infection will almost certainly treat both unless the medication is taken in the form of drops placed directly into the affected ear(s). This kind of misdiagnosis is relatively harmless. However, researchers have determined that a staggering 50 percent of the outpatient misdiagnoses occurring in the U.S. annually may lead to serious patient harm.

This means that half of all misdiagnoses occurring in outpatient settings may lead to severe illness, severe injury or death. Although patients who are harmed by a negligent physician’s misdiagnosis may hold him or her accountable in court, it is difficult to imagine the scope of roughly six million individuals trying to file medical malpractice claims annually for diagnosis-related harm.

It is therefore critical that the medical community, patient advocates, safety experts and the government act to prevent misdiagnosis errors from occurring in the first place. It has become clear that misdiagnosis errors are a major public safety hazard. It is time to respond to this issue both urgently and appropriately.

Source: New York Post, “Odds your doctor has misdiagnosed you? Frighteningly high,” April 17, 2014