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U.S. doctors grossly underestimate cancer misdiagnosis rates

Annually, an estimated $700 billion is "wasted in the U.S. medical system...much of which is tied to misdiagnosis," or erroneous or unnecessary treatment linked to misdiagnosis. In many cases, a doctor's misdiagnosis or failure to diagnosis a medical condition or illness results in a patient and his or her family members incurring hundreds to thousands of dollars in medical costs. Additionally, a patient is likely to suffer mental injuries due to stress and, in some instances, serious physical harm and injuries that can result in permanent disability or even death.

The National Patient Safety Foundation estimates that U.S. patients suffer a 28 percent cancer misdiagnosis rate. This estimate is significantly higher than the zero to 10 percent that doctors estimated in a 2013 study conducted by Best Doctors, Inc. and the National Coalition of Health Care.

The apparent disconnect between the presumed and actual cancer misdiagnosis rate in the U.S. could stem from a number of sources. For example, doctors are prone to overestimate their diagnostic abilities and underestimate misdiagnosis error rates linked to doctors being overworked, failing to order appropriate tests and misinterpreting diagnostic tests.

Based on the 2013 study, while doctors grossly underestimated cancer misdiagnosis rates, they cited outdated pathology and radiology tools and inaccessible genetic testing methodologies as believed sources for why misdiagnosis errors happen. Regardless of why a misdiagnosis occurs, for patients, the negative health implications can be numerous, severe and deadly.

Individuals and their family members who have been negatively impacted by a cancer misdiagnosis may choose to discuss their case with an attorney. Medical malpractice laws are extremely complex and an attorney can help determine if an individual's case warrants legal action and, if so, assist in the recovery of damages and compensation.

Source: Boston Magazine, "Misdiagnosing Cancer is More Common Than We Think," Jamie Ducharme, Jan. 31, 2015

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