The legal system is bogged down with medical malpractice cases resulting in injury or even death. But just how often does misdiagnosis occur? Probably more than we would like to think.
When our loved ones or even we ourselves fall prey to symptoms of illness, modern medicine has become our safety zone as far as where to go for help. From hospital emergency rooms to specialty clinics set up in area shopping centers, access to medical care is unlimited across the bolus of the United States and physicians operating within the perceivably tuned machine are equally available. And with the ever evolving tools and technology of modern medicine available to those who serve this vulnerable population, it might be a safe assumption that medical misdiagnosis is a thing of the past.
Think again. An article written in the New York Times a few years back explained that:
Studies of autopsies have shown that doctors seriously misdiagnose fatal illnesses about 20 percent of the time.
Thats not to say that treating physicians deliberately overlooked flashing signs of of a serious medical problem but rather shows that in hindsight, one in five fatalities are linked to the problem being missed.
When you take the medical community as a whole, primarily physicians, the road to becoming a doctor isn't kin to other degreed professions requiring certifications. For instance, regardless of grade level, a teacher will spend approximately four years obtaining an undergraduate degree, pass a certification exam and then enter their practice of sorts. And for others more indigenous to medicine such as dietitians and psychologists, on the job training far surpasses the required schooling necessary to become experienced in one's field.
But for a physician, not only does one have to complete basic college with a higher level of course curriculum, they must have prerequisites fulfilled such as supporting letters of recommendation attached to their medical school application prior to consideration. Those who are fortunate enough to possess the basic skills necessary to even be considered are then run through a crucible of sorts, some for six to eight years depending upon their specialty. Hundreds of thousands of dollars later, not to mention a decade of their life invested in training, these individuals come out brandishing their pride and prejudice, although some boasting an undertone of arrogance, and a trailer of M.D.
With all of that training and technology, then why are there so many misdiagnosis'? The answer is simple in that these individuals are not paid an average of over $150,000 US a year to find the correct diagnosis. They are paid to perform exams, assess symptoms, write prescriptions and referrals and if necessary, perform surgery. As quoted in the NYT article, under our current healthcare system:
There is no bonus for curing someone and no penalty for failing, except when the mistakes rise to the level of malpractice. So even though doctors can have the best intentions, they have little economic incentive to spend time double-checking their instincts, and hospitals have little incentive to give them the tools to do so.
Combine that philosophy with insurance driven mandates for patient time slots and what does that equal? A full schedule of multiple symptoms, lifestyles and stories looking for the most common route of treatment. Of course, this does not take into account the vulnerability of the patient at the time of illness who is asked repeatedly to to fill out multi-page questionnaires as well as repeated questioning by every medical individual with whom they come into contact. A process that could leave a healthy individual with a brain bleed.
In 2007, CNN ran a series surrounding medical misdiagnosis and headlined a 52-year-old woman with a lump in her torso. A surgeon excised the lump and confirmed through repeated tissue results that the lady would die within a few months from a "rare" form of lymphoma. Nothing would save her except a feeling in her gut called intuition, or often diagnosed in the medical community as "anxiety."
The terminally ill woman sought a second opinion from a specialist in the field of cancer and the lump turned out to be a harmless growth of fat. In this woman's case, the end results were an overwhelming relief. But what about the mental anguish or shock following a misdiagnosis of death?
The vulnerable patient is forced to "trust" the highly technological and trained specialist looking at their clip board of results. However, if even one in ten are being erroneously advised without comprehensive testing, the problem is of grave concern. Future patients need to be aware of their course of treatment and tread cautiously.
Some symptoms of deadly illness' are shared by common body changes like menopause. For instance, the woman diagnosed with lymphoma had night sweats and when a physician is quick to dismiss symptoms for a lesser or attribute them to a fatal illness without appropriate tests, this should raise warning flags. Moreover, lab mistakes are all too common with both false positive and negatives giving physicians a tool to proceed with sometimes deadly consequences. If its rare, then ensure the lab work is accomplished by a lab specialized in the "rare" disease or condition.
When treatment doesn't help within the prescribed time, this should also signal a huge warning.
A delay in appropriate diagnosis can be the difference between life and death for some. In some cases, it can mean fulfilling the remaining years on dialysis when appropriate early medical intervention could have cured a disease.
The symptoms of a stroke or even a TIA can be any combination of sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, vision problems, balance issues and dizziness, confusion and sudden severe headache. The symptoms of a panic attack are limb numbness, headache, dizziness and chest pain. Symptoms of a heart attack can be any or a combination of chest pain whether dull or severe, dizziness, anxiety and even mild arm pain. Sudden ongoing headache and unilateral numbness or tingling can also indicate an unruptured cerebral aneurysm. Status Migrainosis is also symptomatic of an ongoing unilateral severe headache and is a medical emergency in that it can increase risk of stroke.
The symptoms are so close and yet, to mistake one for another could prove fatal for the individual arriving with vertigo, four day head pain and left arm numbness.
A recent article in Press Release 24/7 explained how a study by Health Grades, Inc. showed that up to 40 percent of emergency room visits resulted in misdiagnosis. Another story shows how one of the elite United States Army Special Forces soldiers was kicked out of the group and court martialed because of his forgetful behaviour. That behaviour was due to symptoms of a rare brain eating disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Physicians dismissed their oversight because the young man did not have all of the classic symptoms, with psychiatrists reportedly saying he was "faking it." The Army system is said to have superior standards of care, with "the Army Medical Department's quality of care for America's Army compares very favorably with that of civilian health organizations, when measured by civilian standards."
Still, a frightening oversight regardless of facility. So the question remains, do you fully trust that highly paid General Practitioner or Specialist and their "belief" that the intuition may all be related to anxiety and simply a manifestation of ghost symptoms that require no testing or will questions be asked?
Don't forget your prescription...