Misdiagnoses in outpatient settings affect up to 12 million adults in the United States each year, findings published in BMJ Quality and Safety suggest.

The meta-analysis looked at three large studies which identified misdiagnoses in the primary-care setting. Two of the studies focused on cancer specifically, and the other study identified close to 70 different conditions that were misdiagnosed.

Data from the studies were examined and extrapolated to the general population, and the findings are alarming – more than 5% of patients, or one in 20 patients, could potentially be misdiagnosed during outpatient visits each year.

Brief clinical interaction between a patient and a physician in an outpatient setting does not provide enough time to gather complete information and digest that information in order to make a clinical decision, the researchers commented.

Clinicians typically have 10 minutes or less to make a clinical decision. Limited diagnostic options, unclear guidelines, and concern about over-screening patients may contribute to misdiagnoses. 

The high projected prevalence of misdiagnoses should “encourage policymakers, health care organizations and researchers to start measuring and reducing diagnostic errors,” the researchers concluded.

Misdiagnoses in outpatient settings affect up to 12 million adults in the United States each year, findings published in BMJ Quality and Safety suggest.

The meta-analysis looked at three large studies which identified misdiagnoses in the primary-care setting. Two of the studies focused on cancer specifically, and the other study identified close to 70 different conditions that were misdiagnosed.

Data from the studies were examined and extrapolated to the general population, and the findings are alarming – more than 5% of patients, or one in 20 patients, could potentially be misdiagnosed during outpatient visits each year.

Brief clinical interaction between a patient and a physician in an outpatient setting does not provide enough time to gather complete information and digest that information in order to make a clinical decision, the researchers commented.

Clinicians typically have 10 minutes or less to make a clinical decision. Limited diagnostic options, unclear guidelines, and concern about over-screening patients may contribute to misdiagnoses. 

The high projected prevalence of misdiagnoses should “encourage policymakers, health care organizations and researchers to start measuring and reducing diagnostic errors,” the researchers concluded.

References

  1. Singh, H et al. BMJ Quality and Safety. 2014; doi: 10.1136/bmjqs-2013-002627