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Failure to diagnose may stem from busy outpatient clinics

When people seek medical attention from a physician in an outpatient clinic or emergency room, they expect to be given a diagnosis and possibly a treatment plan that will help them feel better. Studies show, however, that people who leave these medical settings may either be leaving with the wrong diagnosis or without receiving a proper diagnosis at all.

One of the reasons for the high rate of diagnostic mistakes could be the number of patients that physicians see on a daily basis. Due to this high volume, doctors are not able to spend an adequate amount of time with each patient and may feel rushed to make a diagnosis. During this time, it can be easy to overlook a critical element of the patient’s condition. Furthermore, outpatient clinic and ER doctors may not have access to the patient’s full medical history since they are usually not established.

A study published in BMJ Quality and Safety found that at least 12 million Americans are affected by diagnostic errors in outpatient clinics and emergency rooms every year, and approximately half of those have resulted in injury. As a result of these mistakes, patients may be given the wrong medication to take for an illness that they do not have. In extreme cases, people may undergo needless surgeries and accrue medical expenses for conditions that they don’t have. While the wrong diagnosis is being treated, the actual condition may be worsening. For example, if cancer is misdiagnosed as another condition, such as pneumonia, the cancer may continue to spread while the patient is being treated for pneumonia. 

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