Although it had long been understood that medical mistakes had the potential for catastrophic consequences, few people could have predicted the reality illuminated by a 2016 research study conducted by professionals at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. This study revealed that medical mistakes are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.
In late 2022, researchers from the same institution unearthed another disturbing reality. A significant number of Americans suffer catastrophic or fatal harm as a result of a specific medical error phenomenon. When people present with nonspecific or atypical symptoms not traditionally associated with certain serious conditions, they are often misdiagnosed.
What is going on?
It wasn’t long ago that the medical community realized that heart attacks often present differently in women than they do in men. Yet, atypical and nonspecific presentations of the following serious conditions continue to be misdiagnosed at staggering rates:
- Spinal cord injuries
- Aortic aneurysm/dissection
- Venous thromboembolism
- Myocardial infarction
In all, more than five percent of all emergency room patients in the U.S. are misdiagnosed. This figure translates to approximately 7.4 million misdiagnosis errors annually, resulting in 2.6 million people suffering harm due to these mistakes. Of those misdiagnosis victims, it is estimated that 370,000 either die or are permanently disabled due to that preventable harm.
Remaining aware of how prevalent the issue of misdiagnosis is can help you to be a more informed and empowered self-advocate. By understanding the challenges that patients regularly encounter when presenting with severe symptoms that are atypical or nonspecific in nature, you’ll know to push back if your care team is dismissing your concerns. Additionally, if you do suffer harm as a result of misdiagnosis, it may be worth your time to research your patient rights as well.