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Study: Misdiagnosis occurs more often than some may think

While people may believe they are leaving the emergency room or outpatient clinic with a diagnosis and treatment plan, they may be surprised to learn that they have received the wrong diagnosis. Medical misdiagnosis occurs at an alarming rate in these types of medical settings, and this can be a real cause for concern. When physicians misdiagnose patients, or fail to provide a diagnosis at all, people run the risk of developing a worse condition or undergoing treatment that would otherwise be unnecessary.

The study, which was published in BMJ Quality and Safety, found that one in 20 adults in the U.S. who are seen in community health clinics or emergency rooms leave these facilities with the wrong diagnosis. This equates to approximately 12 million Americans each year. In at least six million of those cases, people were at risk of being seriously harmed because of the wrong diagnosis. For example, patients may have been diagnosed with pneumonia when they actually had lung cancer.

One possible reason for these acts of medical negligence is the chaotic environment of these facilities. Physicians and nurses see multiple patients, and may not have an accurate and comprehensive medical history of the patient. Furthermore, physicians are often unable to spend an appropriate amount of time with each patient, as they are often rushed from one room to the other. Physicians may order the wrong screening tests or misread reports, leading to medical errors as well.

Patients who seek treatment in one of these settings are urged to get a second opinion if their symptoms persist, or have their regular physician follow up on their condition. 

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