For people in Boston and across the nation, a medical issue that is enough of a concern to visit a doctor is bad enough without having to think about the possibility of a failure to diagnose what’s really wrong. But this is a growing problem in the U.S. that is affecting scores of people and families. The relief that a person feels when the diagnosis given is such that it’s not as serious as the worst case scenario can be rapidly punctured when the symptoms don’t subside and it’s discovered that there was a failure to diagnose a serious illness. This can lead to delayed treatment, a worsened condition and even death.

A study has shown that at least 12 million Americans are subject to misdiagnosis each year. To put that into context, out of 20 people who seek treatment for various ailments, one will be misdiagnosed. These errors can be for a variety of reasons from a negligent physician to misreading the records to a simple mistake. The consequences can be minor or catastrophic.

Data from three studies were used in preparing the analysis. One study looked at the number of people misdiagnosed in primary care. The other two studies examined the number of lung cancer and colorectal cancer screenings compared with the diagnosis that each patient received. The number the study came to with respect to an overall rate of misdiagnosis was slightly above 5 percent. The number of patients who suffered significant harm due to these errors was unknown, but their prior studies indicated that as many as half could lead to long-term damage.

Considering the risks of a problem growing worse if the doctor misdiagnoses it, it’s imperative that a family who has been subjected to this type of error knows that they must take an active role in their health care by asking questions of the doctor. If the symptoms persist, it’s important to either return to the doctor or seek another opinion. If the failure to diagnose did lead to long-term damage or even death, it’s wise to discuss the matter with a medical malpractice atorney who has experience in these kinds of cases.

Source: CBS News, “12 million Americans misdiagnosed each year,” Jessica Firger, accessed on Oct. 14, 2014