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Study: 12 Million Americans Misdiagnosed Each Year

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At least 1 out of 20 U.S. adults, approximately 12 million Americans, are misdiagnosed each year when they seek medical attention – and about half of those misdiagnoses have the potential to cause serious harm. (PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/GettyImages)

At least 1 out of 20 U.S. adults, approximately 12 million Americans, are misdiagnosed each year when they seek medical attention – and about half of those misdiagnoses have the potential to cause serious harm. (PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/GettyImages)

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Houston (CBS HOUSTON) – At least 1 out of 20 U.S. adults, approximately 12 million Americans, are misdiagnosed each year when they seek medical attention and about half of those misdiagnoses have the potential to cause serious harm.

A new study of medical patient safety published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety reveals that roughly 12 million adults who seek medical care in doctors’ offices and other outpatient locations are misdiagnosed, adding to previous studies which have only shown rates of flawed diagnoses within hospital settings.

“The harm from misdiagnosis occurs when the correct treatment is delayed or when you get an inappropriate treatment or test,” lead author Dr. Hardeep Singh of the Baylor College of Medicine and the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center told Vox.

And about half, or about 6 million of these misdiagnoses, are projected to result in severe harm to the patient.

“Although it is unknown how many patients will be harmed from diagnostic errors, our previous work suggests that about one-half of diagnostic errors have the potential to lead to severe harm,” write the study’s authors. Examining diagnosis and follow-up visit data from previous research, the authors applied a formula for diagnostic errors to determine that the annual U.S. rate of misdiagnosis is 5.08 percent.

“While this is only an estimate and does not imply all those affected will actually have harm, this risk potentially translates to about 6 million outpatients per year.”

But the data suggests that patients with medical conditions ranging from pneumonia, heart failure or cancer may have serious but unrecognized ongoing afflictions.

“It’s very serious,” said CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook. “When you have numbers like 12 million Americans, it sounds like a lot — and it is a lot. It represents about 5 percent of the outpatient encounters.”

Lapook noted that while the 95 percent of correct diagnoses would be good on a history test, “it’s not good enough for medicine, especially when lives are at stake.”

And many of the misdiagnoses may be a result of hasty visits to the doctor’s office.

“Doctors’ visits these days tend to be rushed. Just not having enough time to talk to the patient, to communicate, to get a sense of what’s going on,” Lapook told CBS News. “These days’ you’re in your out, and that’s a problem.”

Lapook urges patients to take the time and “do their homework” prior to visits to the doctor, being sure to consider of all medical context that can help ensure that the physician has as much health information as possible.

“As a physician, I’m listening for clues,” LaPook told CBS News. “Don’t forget to share details of your family’s medical history,” including relatives with cancer, heart conditions or other related conditions. Lapook also said patients should always follow-up to obtain test results or any other medical results such as any type of irregular symptoms.

“Don’t assume that if you don’t hear anything it’s good news. No news is not necessarily good news,” said LaPook. “The art of medicine is trying to figure out which of these symptoms — which 99 times out of 100 is something innocent, one time out of 100 turns out to be something serious.”

“That’s the art of medicine. That’s the tricky part.”

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