Imagine you go to the doctor for a cough you just can't beat; it's something people in Syracuse do all the time. The doctor says what you likely already thought: it's a cold. He or she gives you a perscription-strength cough supressant and sends you on your way. The problem is, your cough isn't caused by a cold, but by lung cancer.
This is a frightening scenario that happens all too frequently, reports the New York Post. According to a new study to be published in the British medical journal BMJ Quality & Safety, one in 20 patients in the U.S. are misdiagnosed each year. This boils down to approximately 12 million adults.
In some situations, a misdiagnosis or a delay in diagnosis has no ill effects, but in many situations, it could be deadly.
Take again the hypothetical posed above. If someone is diagnosed as having a cold when he or she really has lung cancer, the delay in diagnosis could allow the cancer to spread, become inoperable and/or untreatable. If left too long, it could metastasize and be fatal. Had a doctor been able to correctly diagnose the cancer from the beginning, a patient may have had a much higher likelihood of beating the cancer entirely.
The study's lead author has made it quite clear that this rate of misdiagnosis is problematic. Not only are a large number of people being misdiagnosed, but many of them are at real risk for serious injury.
Fortunately, anyone who does suffer injuries or damages because of a misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis can file a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Source: New York Post, "Odds your doctor has misdiagnosed you? Frighteningly high," April 17, 2014