People generally trust that doctors are experts, capable of quickly reaching the right conclusion when reviewing someone’s symptoms. They typically have access to modern laboratories and specialized testing equipment, as well as years of training to help with the diagnostic process. As a result, patients concerned about their medical state understandably depend on their doctors to properly diagnose them. They trust that a physician will help them determine the underlying cause of their symptoms, but they don’t always get what they expect when they seek out medical care.
Despite the existence of advanced imaging technology and impressive chemical tests, doctors in the United States continue to make a staggering number of diagnostic errors every year. The percentage of such mistakes that occur annually is relatively small overall small but is still shocking given the potential consequences of even a single significant error.
How frequently do doctors make diagnostic errors?
Major diagnostic errors occur every day, even in modern medical settings. To understand the frequency of diagnostic errors, people first have to understand what constitutes a diagnostic mistake. There are two main types of diagnostic failures. The first is a misdiagnosis, which is when a doctor reaches the wrong diagnosis. They may even treat the patient for the wrong condition. The second is diagnostic failure, which is when a doctor doesn’t diagnose someone at all. The combination of these two types of mistakes affects roughly 5% of patients seeking medical care each year.
One in 20 patients does not receive an accurate and timely diagnosis when they have a medical condition that requires treatment. Although that number is relatively small, it is still reason for concern. Understanding how common different types of medical errors are may help people better advocate for themselves when they require medical support and may inspire them to rightfully seek justice if they are harmed due to a physician’s diagnostic error.