The growing risk of misdiagnosis and how to protect yourself

Investing & Retirement

A report issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) included an alarming statistic: each year 12 million adults in the U.S. who seek outpatient medical care experience a diagnostic error in the form of an incorrect, missed or late diagnosis.Disclosure 1 The report’s authors conclude that most people will experience at least one diagnostic error during their lifetime. So, exactly what steps can you take to help prevent being misdiagnosed?

A significant problem that hasn’t received enough attention

While there have been many studies on hospital and medication errors, far fewer have explored the problem of diagnostic errors. The handful of studies that have been undertaken have found that the problem extends well beyond outpatient care—and that these errors can lead to inappropriate treatment and poorer outcomes. For example:Disclosure 2

  • 10% to 20% of cases are misdiagnosed
  • 28% of cancer cases are misdiagnosed according to a study in the journal BMJ Quality and Safety
  • 47% of clinicians encounter preventable diagnostic errors monthly
  • 1 in 4 breast biopsies may be misdiagnosed
  • 28% of 538 reported diagnostic errors were life-threatening or resulted in the patient’s death or permanent disability
  • Diagnostic errors contribute to 10% of patient deaths and 6-17% of hospital adverse events

What you can do to lower your risk of misdiagnosis

The IOM report included several changes that could help to reduce the number of diagnostic errors in all healthcare settings. These suggestions included:

  • Making sure that all members of the healthcare team (including pathologists and radiologists) are integral parts of the diagnostic team;
  • Using technology that improves rather than impedes communication between members of the healthcare team and with the patient; and
  • Making sure that physicians and other healthcare providers get regular feedback on the accuracy of the diagnoses they make.

But the first recommendation on the committee’s list may be the most important—making sure that the patient and their family are actively and consistently included in the process of diagnosis from the start. Patients and their families have information that can be vital for healthcare providers working to develop a diagnosis, including previous personal and family health history, and a complete description of the symptoms the patient has been experiencing.

To protect yourself from misdiagnosis, you should make sure you and your physician keep the lines of communication open. Answer all your doctor’s questions frankly and, if you don’t understand something your doctor tells you, ask for an explanation in simpler layman terms. It’s also important that you have a comprehensive and accurate medical record that can easily be shared by all the physicians treating you. This can help ensure that the results of diagnostic tests are reviewed as part of the diagnostic process and that any needed follow-up is scheduled in a timely manner.

It’s also important to come to your physician’s appointments well prepared. Before the appointment, make a list of your symptoms, how long you’ve experienced them, and any questions you have for the doctor. It can be helpful to bring a trusted family member, friend, or advocate with you to the appointment to take notes and ask questions—especially if you’re dealing with a serious health problem. By being an active participant in the diagnostic process, you’ll not only be a more informed patient, you’ll also lower the risk of avoidable diagnostic errors.

Thinking about healthcare? We can help you plan for out-of-pocket and long-term care costs, as well as work with you and your attorney to create a comprehensive estate plan.

Talk to a Truist Wealth advisor.

This article originally appeared on PinnacleCare is a private health advisory firm that provides support for a broad range of healthcare needs and assistance with health risk management and planning. PinnacleCare is offered through an unaffiliated third party. Truist Bank and its affiliates and the directors, officers, employees and agents of Truist Bank and its affiliates (collectively, "Truist") do not provide health care or health care advice and are not soliciting personal health information in any way. You should do your own research or due diligence to satisfy yourself as to the qualifications of any medical professional

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