The shocking fact is that despite all the advances in modern diagnostics – with high-tech MRIs, sonograms and sophisticated lab tests – misdiagnosis is by far the most common medical mistake doctors make.
Even good doctors often fail to come up with the correct cause for a medical problem. Studies show that some 15 percent of medical problems are initially misdiagnosed.
A large study published in 2013 revealed that the most common diagnostic mistakes include misidentifying urinary tract infections, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, acute renal failure, and cancer.
Misdiagnoses occur twice as frequently in doctors’ offices than in hospitals, according to a Consumer Reports survey.
“But when the error happens in a hospital it could have more dire consequences because the patients are sicker to begin with,” David E. Newman-Toker, M.D., associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine in Baltimore tells Newsmax Health.
Some 160,000 hospitalized patients die or suffer permanent injury each year because healthcare providers misdiagnose a condition, arrive late at a diagnosis, or miss it entirely according to a report spearheaded by Dr. Newman-Toker.
“I tell my patients to always follow the rule of three to avoid becoming a victim of a medical mistake,” he says. “First, when you see your doctor, come prepared. Have a list of symptoms and a timeline that your doctor can read quickly. This saves both of you valuable time and helps pinpoint the problem.
“Next, ask questions. What else could this be? Why do you think it isn’t?
Lastly, be vigilant. If the doctor gives you medication or treatment, find out what to expect. If you aren’t feeling better within the prescribed period of time, go right back to the doctor. You may have received the wrong medication, the wrong dosage, or you may be a victim of misdiagnosis.”
Here are the top 10 mistakes even good doctors make:
1. Misdiagnosis: See above.
2. Treating the wrong patient: If the hospital staff fails to correctly identify a patient’s identity, patients with similar names may be confused. Before each procedure you undergo, make sure the staff checks your entire name, date of birth, and barcode on the wristband. This is especially important if you have a common name (John Jones, David Smith, etc.)
3. Wrong medications: Make sure your doctor knows every drug and supplement you are taking. This can prevent negative interactions between medications. Reveal any allergies you have. Make sure that you can read the prescription and double check with the pharmacist to ensure that the treatment is correct.
4. Lack of hygiene: A doctor’s office or hospital can be a hotbed of germs. Make sure anyone you come into contact with washes their hands. Wash your hands after you leave a healthcare setting.
5. Wrong site surgery: According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, wrong-site surgery is 100 percent preventable. Yet, this horrendous mistake – operating on the wrong body part – occurs frequently enough that some healthcare insurers refuse to include coverage for it. Make sure that your doctor knows exactly what has to be done. Some experts suggest using a marker prior to a procedure to indicate the correct body part.
6. Lack of coordinated care: Disaster can strike when one of your doctors doesn’t know what the others are doing. This can result in over medication, insufficient treatment, and frustration on the part of the patient. Make sure at least one healthcare provider is aware of all of your treatments.
7. Over-testing, treating: More is not always better. Ask whether a test or treatment is required and how it could help you. Chances are you could be better off without it. Be especially wary of diagnostic tests involving radiation, which can be dangerous in cumulative doses.
8. Harmful ER waits: Patients can spend hours in emergency rooms if the hospital is busy, short-staffed, or doesn’t prioritize correctly. If possible, have your primary-care physician intervene on your behalf if you are stuck in a waiting room with a serious condition.
9. Leaving surgical souvenirs: If you have unexpected postsurgical pain, ask if you might have a surgical instrument inside of you.
10. Allowing air bubbles in blood: If the hole in a patient’s chest isn’t sealed properly after a tube is removed, air bubbles can get sucked into the wound cutting off the blood supply to the lungs, heart, kidneys and brain. This mistake could be deadly. If you have a central tube in you, ask how you should be positioned when the tube is removed.
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