A woman in North Carolina experienced such debilitating fatigue and back pain that she put in over 50 doctor’s visits over the course of three years to determine the cause of her symptoms. Doctors gave various different diagnoses — all of them incorrect. It was later determined that she had breast cancer that had taken over her spine and actually fractured her back. Although a scan in Feb. 2008 indicated she might have cancer, she wasn’t formally diagnosed until Dec. 2010, when the cancer had already advanced to Stage IV. She estimates that her doctor’s failure to diagnose shortened her life expectancy by at least seven years.
While the woman’s story is tragic, it is all too common. Missed or delayed diagnoses are believed to cause moderate to severe problems in 10 to 20 percent of cases. Research shows that these errors routinely occur for common ailments such as pneumonia or breast cancer, as opposed to rare illnesses that are more difficult to diagnose. Some allege that the mistakes are solely due to a doctor’s flawed thought process.
Although these types of mistakes occur much more frequently than operating on the wrong part of the body, for example, they receive little attention. Often patients who are misdiagnosed learn their correct disorder from a different doctor, while the first one never learns of the mistake. Additionally, healthcare facilities rarely keep data to track their mistakes in diagnosis, making it difficult to learn from past mistakes.
If someone feels they are a victim of a doctor’s failure to diagnose, he or she can take action in the form of medical malpractice claim. While people such as the woman in North Carolina cannot be made better, perhaps better awareness of her case will help others who may find themselves in her situation in the future. It is important for members of the medical community to remember that a mistake in diagnoses could lead to the disability or death of one of their patients.
Source: ctnow.com, “Misdiagnosis: More Common Than Drug Errors or Wrong-Site Surgery,” Sandra G. Boodman, May 18, 2013