Researchers Call Misdiagnoses a Public Health Emergency

Hundreds of thousands in US die or are disabled each year because of errors, report says
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 19, 2023 4:03 PM CDT
Researchers Warn of Harm Inflicted by Misdiagnoses
PET-CT axial scan of the brain. Diagnoses of strokes are missed about 17.5% of the time, research found.   (Getty/wenht)

Medical researchers who dug deeper into data have found that the number of misdiagnoses of patients and the harm done are greater than previously understood, rising now to the level of a public health emergency. "Diagnostic errors are, by a wide margin, the most under-resourced public health crisis we face," says Dr. David Newman-Toker, director of the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute Center for Diagnostic Excellence. The report published by the center this week in BMJ Journals says 371,000 patients die and 424,000 are permanently disabled each year because of incorrect diagnoses, USA Today reports. The errors affect about 12 million Americans a year, the center says.

The mistakes aren't made just by primary care physicians. Previous estimates of the problem have varied, but researchers said theirs agrees with studies of misdiagnoses "in ambulatory clinics and emergency departments and during inpatient care," per USA Today. A disease is misdiagnosed about 11% of the time, the report says, including just 1.5% of heart attacks but, at the top end, 62% of spinal abscesses. Strokes are a particular area of concern, with a 17.5% error rate, partly because patients who have had a stroke sometimes are thought to dealing with inner ear disease, the report said. "We don't miss strokes when somebody is paralyzed on one side and can't talk," Newman-Toker said. "We miss them when they look like something else that's benign." (More diagnosis stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.