Many different medical issues produce similar or overlapping symptoms. For example, you could develop a rash after exposure to an allergen or because you have lymphoma. A cough could mean recent exposure to a viral pathogen, or it could be an early warning sign of lung cancer or COPD.
Given how many different conditions can produce the same symptoms, the average person would really struggle to accurately diagnose themselves. You go to a doctor for diagnosis because they have access to testing equipment and medical knowledge beyond your reach. They can rule out causes and arrive at the right diagnosis so that you receive proper care.
Sadly, millions of patients every year experience a worse outcome than they should because their doctor makes a significant diagnostic mistake. How serious is your personal risk of a diagnostic error when you go to the doctor or the hospital?
Millions of medical mistakes each year lead to thousands of deaths
Tracking diagnostic mistakes isn’t particularly easy. It requires either that the patient receives an accurate diagnosis later or that a forensic specialist notes the issue after someone dies. The chances are very good that the modern statistics about diagnostic mistakes show that the issue is less commonplace than it actually is.
Even then, there are a shocking number of medical mistakes that happen each year. Roughly 12 million people will have a doctor fail to diagnose them or delay their diagnosis in a way that affects their care just in the United States. Of those twelve million people, between 40000 and 80000 will die of preventable deaths because their physician failed to diagnose them accurately or in a timely manner.
Certain people have a higher risk for diagnostic errors
Different subsets of the population have different degrees of risk for medical malpractice. When it comes to diagnostic errors, there are two groups that have significantly elevated risks.
Research has found that doctors are more likely to make diagnostic mistakes or fail to reach a diagnosis when the patient is a person of color or a woman. Members of these communities have roughly 30% greater risk of diagnostic mistakes than white males seeking medical treatment.
Learning about diagnostic mistakes and other kinds of medical malpractice can help you fight back after a doctor negatively affects your health.