Most people know that routine checkups are essential for catching health issues before they progress too far. For many patients, early detection can be a matter of life and death. Unfortunately, doctors and other health care professionals can and do frequently miss signs of illness: even serious illness.
Researchers have found that misdiagnosis may be a factor in as many as 40,000 to 80,000 U.S. deaths each year. Recent research by Johns Hopkins Medicine shows that there are three broad types of disease that make up the majority of misdiagnosis cases.
The “big three” conditions
Johns Hopkins researchers found that nearly 75% of all misdiagnosis cases that cause serious patient harm involve one of three conditions. These “big three” include infections (13.5%), vascular events (22.8%) and cancers (37%).
Specific “big three” conditions
Researchers also identified several specific conditions in each of the “big three” categories that frequently involve diagnostic error. These include:
- Sepsis, pneumonia, spinal infections, encephalitis and meningitis
- Heart attack, aortic aneurysm and dissection, venous thromboembolism, stroke and endocarditis
- Lung, colorectal, breast, skin and prostate cancers
There are many reasons that clinicians may overlook important symptoms. However, the Johns Hopkins study found that over 85% of misdiagnosed cases involved crucial failures of medical judgment.
Individuals who fail to receive an accurate, timely diagnosis may miss out on critical opportunities for early intervention. A late or incorrect diagnosis can mean fewer options for treatment, less likelihood of recovery and a much greater emotional and financial burden on patients and their families.