The headline above is from an April 16, 2014, NBC News story reporting on research published April 21, 2014, in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ). The research, partially funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Department of Veterans Affairs, titled “The frequency of diagnostic errors in outpatient care: estimations from three large observational studies involving US adult populations” shows that approximately one in every 20 Americans who seek medical outpatient care will receive the wrong diagnosis.
Researchers examined data from three previous studies evaluating things such as unexpected return visits, and lack of timely follow-up. This large sample size allowed the researchers to project their finding to the general US population.
The data led the researchers to conclude that as many as 12 million Americans a year, or more than 5 percent of all patients, are misdiagnosed. Of these errors, it was estimated that as many as 6 million Americans could potentially suffer serious harm.
The study results reported, “Combining estimates from the three studies yielded a rate of outpatient diagnostic errors of 5.08%, or approximately 12 million US adults every year. Based upon previous work, we estimate that about half of these errors could potentially be harmful.”
“Misdiagnosis is clearly a serious problem for the health care field,” said Hardeep Singh, M.D., M.P.H., chief of the health policy, quality & informatics program at the Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety. “This population-based estimate should provide a foundation for policymakers, health care organizations and researchers to strengthen efforts to measure and reduce diagnostic errors.”
“The findings of this study are consistent with recent data from the general public about diagnostic errors,” Singh said. “This study is significant because it is based on a large sample size and is the most robust estimate thus far to address the frequency of diagnostic error in routine outpatient care.”