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Study on outpatient misdiagnoses should concern Floridians

A new study shows reason for concern about the accuracy of diagnoses made at U.S. outpatient facilities. The study was led by a patient safety expert who just received an award from President Obama for his work. Researchers found that just over 5 percent of adults who go to a community health clinic or emergency room are misdiagnosed. Further, according to the study, in these cases there was enough information available for a correct diagnosis in one visit.

Five percent may not sound like a lot, but the study estimates that it adds up to 12 million people annually and that half of these patients could suffer harm because of diagnostic errors. Another doctor and patient safety expert says that while the study provides more substantial data than previous analyses, the numbers are still likely lower than the reality. "I would say this is a minimum," he asserts.

One patient safety advocate says the study's findings are significant because more Americans are relying on outpatient facilities than in the past. Therefore, she says, "There needs to be more scrutiny on what they're doing and pressure to improve their performance."

The doctor who led this recent study says that physicians who treat patients in outpatient settings have challenges that can lead to diagnostic errors. They are often working in a "fairly chaotic" environment. Thus, it may be difficult to evaluate complex symptoms. Further, they often have limited support personnel and technical resources that would free them up to make an accurate clinical evaluation.

Patients can help their odds of not being among this 5 percent in several ways. First, they need to be open with the doctor about all of their symptoms. If possible, they should provide a complete medical history. Finally, they need to follow up if they don't hear back about any test results and not rely on the "No news is good news" adage.

Florida patients have a right to expect accurate diagnoses and quality care from all medical professionals, regardless of the setting. For non-medical professionals, it's often hard to know whether earlier diagnosis of a problem would have prevented harm or saved a life. Attorneys with experience in medical malpractice cases work to determine whether a patient or surviving family members have a viable case that could bring them some sense of justice and possibly provide needed compensation for harm caused by medical professionals.

Source: NBC News, "Misdiagnosed: Docs' Mistakes Affect 12 Million a Year" JoNel Aleccia, Apr. 16, 2014

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