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Nobody is perfect. When a medical professional makes a mistake however, the consequences can be life-changing, or even deadly. Oftentimes it’s the result of an incorrect or delayed diagnosis.

A 2019 study from the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine looked at about 55,000 medical malpractice claims filed from 2006-15. In all of these cases, an error resulted in the patient becoming permanently disabled or dying.

Of these serious medical malpractice claims, one in every three cited misdiagnosis as the cause. That means a failed or delayed diagnosis led to serious disability or death thousands of times.

How often does misdiagnosis happen?

We can see from the above example that misdiagnosis can have devastating effects on a patient, but how often does it actually happen? One Mayo Clinic study reviewed how a diagnosis changed when a patient got a second opinion. In 21% of those cases, the primary diagnosis turned out to be completely wrong, while 66% of the cases resulted in a diagnosis being “refined.”

Only 12% of the time did the diagnosis not change with a second opinion.

Misdiagnosis can affect anyone, at any time, from the youngest child to the oldest adult. It can result in a patient receiving incorrect care or being forced to endure unnecessary procedures, all while the actual ailment continues to get worse as it is left undetected. When these types of errors fall short of the standard of care and cause harm to the patient, it may be considered medical malpractice, opening the door for a potential lawsuit.

“It is not just inconvenient to have a wrong or delayed diagnosis,” said one of the lead authors in the malpractice claims study. “For many patients, misdiagnosis causes severe harm and expense, and in the worst cases, death.”