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Misdiagnosis may put patients at risk

In Texas and across the country, medical misdiagnosis may be a largely unrecognized crisis. Every year, roughly 12 million people are affected by some kind of medical diagnostic error. While many of these situations are quickly resolved and do little long-term harm, other cases are much more serious. Up to 80,000 Americans could be losing their lives annually due to worsened health conditions and other complications caused by mistaken diagnoses. Patients may receive incorrect treatment, causing dangerous side effects, or they may not receive treatment for their illness, resulting in worsened symptoms.

When progressive diseases like cancer are involved, the risks are particularly great. The failure to diagnose cancer may mean that a patient loses out on all of the benefits of early diagnosis and treatment. In many cases, the cancer is only discovered when the patient is too ill for treatment to be successful. While some medical errors may be difficult to prevent, others could have been avoided if the physician had performed their job properly. Doctors should correctly evaluate tests/imaging and take patient complaints seriously.

The misdiagnosis epidemic also shows troubling signs of the effects of social biases. Women and individuals of color are 20% to 30% more likely to get misdiagnosed when they report medical conditions. This could indicate that their reports of pain and illness are dismissed more readily or taken less seriously. Another explanation is that standard medical care focuses too much on the symptoms experienced by only some patients. For example, women often show different symptoms of heart disease than men.

A misdiagnosis can lead to serious medical conditions or even death, especially in the case of a failure to diagnose cancer or another severe illness. Someone who has been injured by a doctor's error may consult with a medical malpractice attorney about pursuing compensation.

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