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Doctor misdiagnosis is a common cause of patient illness or death

Hospital negligence and surgical errors are often seen in the news as a serious cause of medical malpractice, but a study by JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that mistakes made in the general practitioner's office are a much more common occurrence that result in thousands of illnesses or deaths a year. In fact, the study's authors say that doctor's office mistakes may cause more patient deaths or injuries than any other medical mistakes.

According to the study, more than 150,000 patients a year suffer a worsened medical condition or fatal medical error from doctor errors. General practitioners' initial failure to diagnose such serious medical conditions as heart failure, pneumonia, and cancer result in thousands of repeat doctor visits, hospitalizations and deaths. Out of 190 patients in the study who had initial diagnostic errors, 36 could have suffered serious permanent damage, and 27 may have lost their lives.

Many of the symptoms of serious illness are similar to a variety of mild conditions, such as stomachaches and slight coughs. This is probably the main reason many conditions result in an initial misdiagnosis. In addition, some doctors have been shown to miss out on patients' crucial medical history or fail to order the correct tests that can result in a proper diagnosis at the time of the initial exam.

This study shows that Georgia residents need to be involved in all aspects of their medical care, including not assuming the doctor's word is final if their symptoms don't improve. Patients or their families who have suffered from a misdiagnosed illness or fatal medical error have the right to pursue compensation for their doctor's negligence.

Source: Reuters, "Missed diagnoses common in the doctor's office," Feb. 26, 2013

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