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How Often Do Misdiagnoses Occur in Doctors' Offices and Clinics?

When you’re not feeling well, one of the first things you’re likely to think about is seeing a doctor. If the ill feeling persists, chances are you’ll eventually find yourself at a doctor’s office or clinic, where a physician will be able to tell you what’s wrong and help you get better.

Will you get a correct diagnosis, though? According to a recent study, to be published this month in the medical journal BMJ Quality & Safety, you might not be given an accurate diagnosis. The study, performed by a group of researchers in Houston, Texas, suggests that diagnostic errors can and do occur in U.S. outpatient care settings, such as doctors’ offices and clinics, and further, these misdiagnoses potentially affect the health care of approximately 12 million adult patients, or one in every twenty patients.

The researchers analyzed the data from three previous studies and found a misdiagnosis rate of slightly over 5 percent. When this percentage is applied to the annual number of adult patients who receive outpatient care, the result is the misdiagnosis of roughly 12 million patients each year. According to the study’s lead researcher, errors and other flaws in the medical records analyzed by the study may mean the misdiagnosis rate is even higher.

Not all misdiagnoses cause serious harm to patients, but many do. This can lead to delayed treatment for serious conditions or even treatments for medical conditions that don’t actually exist. The number of diagnosis errors found by the study indicates this is an important medical issue that merits further discussion and exploration.