Misdiagnoses Are a Big Problem, Especially in Pediatric Care

Misdiagnoses affect the majority of Americans, but children appear to be at the greatest risk.

According to a recent study, misdiagnoses are so common that most Americans will suffer from one at least once in their lives, the Effingham Daily News reports. The study's authors say that diagnostic errors are still poorly understood and that they will require a major overhaul in how hospitals and health care facilities are run in order to properly address. Errors may be particularly common when diagnosing children, with misdiagnoses accounting for a majority of medical malpractice cases against pediatricians.

A Misunderstood Problem

While there has been plenty of research into many types of hospital errors over the years, such as surgical mistakes and medication errors, tracking diagnostic errors has proven much more difficult. The reason is because many errors go unreported or undetected. Some diagnostic errors may not lead to any harm to the patient who has been misdiagnosed, for example, and so they are often not reported. Not reporting even harmless misdiagnoses, however, presents a problem as it makes it more difficult to identify how misdiagnoses happen in the first place, thus making it harder to avoid more serious diagnostic errors from occurring in the future.

According to one estimate, 12 million Americans adults are affected by a misdiagnosis every year. Such a high figure means that the majority of Americans will suffer from a diagnostic error at least once over the course of their lives. The report also states that in order to bring down rates of misdiagnoses, the workplace culture of health care facilities needs to change. Many patients, nurses, and other medical assistants, for example, are often hesitant about challenging a physician's conclusions, worrying that such a challenge will undermine his or her authority.

Diagnostic Errors Among Children

Perhaps most concerning is that diagnostic errors may be even higher among children patients. According to The Atlantic, about 61 percent of medical malpractice suits brought against pediatricians involve misdiagnoses. Misdiagnoses account for a greater share of medical malpractice suits against pediatricians than they do among any other medical specialist group.

Research still needs to be done to determine just how prevalent diagnostic errors involving children actually are since current research is largely limited to misdiagnoses involving adult patients. Nonetheless, because children have a far more difficult time articulating their symptoms and because they may not be able to recognize an ailment or condition as being abnormal, it seems likely that diagnostic errors would be higher among younger patients.

Accurate diagnoses are a critical function of a physician's practice of medicine. Failure to reach a correct diagnosis can lead to catastrophic circumstances for the patient. Patients who have been injured as a result of a misdiagnosis or other medical error should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss their legal rights.