According to a report recently issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a division of the independent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, most U.S. patients will suffer at least one misdiagnosis error during their lifetime – often with deadly results.

In fact, while we may never know the exact number of deaths attributed to missed or late diagnoses, the recent report notes that research over the last several decades has already linked roughly 10 percent of patient deaths to misdiagnosis errors. In addition, a review of medical records indicates that diagnostic errors contribute to six to 17 percent of adverse events in hospitals.

Sadly, these numbers add up, especially when you consider that an estimated five percent of all U.S. patients seeking outpatient care are misdiagnosed every year, according to the IOM report.

Common causes of misdiagnosis errors

The recent IOM report indicates many potential reasons for the high number of misdiagnosis errors in the U.S., including:

  • A healthcare system and culture that discourages disclosure and transparency when it comes to misdiagnosis errors, making it difficult to learn from past mistakes
  • Insufficient communication and collaboration between doctors, patients and their families
  • A healthcare system that is not designed well for the diagnostic process
  • Limited feedback for doctors about their past diagnostic performance

Even though some misdiagnoses may end up being inconsequential, others are deadly, as the recent report shows. For instance, a delayed or overlooked cancer diagnosis puts your life at greater risk every day it goes untreated and misdiagnosed. This is simply not acceptable.

Unfortunately, things may not get much better anytime soon. As the report notes, until the healthcare industry focuses on improving the diagnosis process, errors will likely get worse, especially when you consider the increasing complexity of the healthcare system.