Medical Error: Wrong Diagnoses Can Kill You

I’ve been arguing for years at major healthcare conferences that the probability of a correct diagnosis during a typical patient visit of a few minutes is at best 50%, on average. I rarely get any kickback. A former head of the Massachusetts Medical Society thought he did better than that. I told him he was better than average.

The real numbers are worse than that. After many patient visits and hospitalization, and after the patient is dead, postmortems indicate that major problems are missed in 39% of cases and experts agree that over 30% of diagnoses are wrong, even with all that medical science and all the attending physicians have to offer during the entire period you are still breathing before you are sent to the morgue.

We need something a lot better than the current lab tests and CAT scans. I predict that electromagnetic medicine will have a huge impact on diagnosis in the future.

Wrong diagnoses are killing patients

Michael Day, New Scientist, 18 February 04

Many patients in intensive care units are being wrongly diagnosed, according to a study in a UK hospital. Some are dying because doctors fail to spot major conditions such as heart attacks, cancer and pulmonary embolism. The reason, experts say, is not incompetence but that so few post-mortems are now performed that doctors cannot learn from their mistakes.

Fang Gao Smith, a consultant in intensive care medicine at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, and her team checked the accuracy of diagnoses by comparing post-mortem results with patients’ medical records. In 39 per cent of cases, they found major problems had been missed.

The problem is not limited to one hospital, or to the UK. Gao Smith says her findings are consistent with other studies done in Europe and the US. She thinks doctors place too much faith in sophisticated scanners when making diagnoses, and are failing to learn from their mistakes because fewer and fewer autopsies are being done, both in the UK and the US.

1 Comment

  • Rhonda Stafford Posted July 29, 2013 5:55 pm

    Unfortunately, there's no easy solution to this problem. Medical errors are responsible for tens of thousands of preventable deaths every year. Perhaps the best way to deal with it is to make sure those wronged are equipped with medical malpractice lawyers so that the lawsuits put pressure on the medical system to improve safety and quality of care.

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