Robert A. Solomon, P.C.
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Tips to avoid misdiagnosis

New Jersey readers may be surprised to learn that physicians misdiagnose conditions in 10 to 15 percent of new problems. There is a common perception that most misdiagnoses happen with rare conditions; however, the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions are cancer, acute renal failure, congestive heart failure, pneumonia and urinary-tract infections.

A misdiagnosis is twice as likely to occur in a doctor's office than in a hospital. When a misdiagnosis takes place in a hospital, the consequences may be more severe because the patients may be more seriously ill than those in doctors' offices. Even if a misdiagnosis is corrected, there may be additional expenses due to delayed treatments and additional tests.

According to a report published in the August 2013 issue of BMJ Quality and Safety in Health Care, up to 160,000 patients in hospitals suffer a serious, permanent injury or die as the result of late or misdiagnosed conditions. A permanent injury or death due to a misdiagnosis may lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit.

There are some common cognitive traps that even the most careful physicians fall into. Some common pitfalls are falling into a narrow path of thinking, connecting symptoms to similar cases with less serious conditions and letting a stereotype affect clinical judgement.

There are steps that patients could take to avoid these common diagnostic errors, such as making an early appointment, as the doctor is less likely to be rushed. Coming prepared with notes and bringing a friend to help with the discussion may also help. If someone has been seriously injured or has died as the result of a misdiagnosis, there may be relief available in the form of financial compensation gained through negotiating a settlement or filing a personal injury lawsuit.

Source: Consumer Reports, "Mistakes even good doctors make", October 31, 2013

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