From the time you entered adulthood, you have heard that you should not ignore certain symptoms that may indicate serious health conditions. Chest pain, unexplained weight loss, fever, unusual bleeding or others may have sent you to the doctor or even the emergency room for answers and relief. You explained your symptoms, perhaps several times. Maybe the doctor ran some tests. You may have felt relieved when your doctor wrote you a prescription or assured you it was nothing to worry about.
However, if your symptoms persisted or worsened, you soon realized your doctor was wrong. Your condition was definitely something to worry about. In fact, because of your doctor’s misdiagnosis, you may now have many more things to worry about.
The Big Three
To be fair, a medical diagnosis is often a difficult mystery to solve. Patients are not always forthcoming with symptoms, and symptoms for major illnesses often overlap with more common conditions like allergies or indigestion. When it comes to medical conditions from the categories that doctors consider “the big three,” making a mistake can prove tragic for the patient. The big three include the following:
- Vascular conditions, including stroke, heart attack, aneurysm and blood clots
- Infections, such as sepsis, spinal abscess and meningitis
- Cancer, especially lung cancer, colorectal cancer and lymphoma
For some of these conditions, minutes count. For others, a delay of days, weeks or months can result in severe injury, permanent disability or untreatable progression. Studies show that about one in every 20 patients with one of the big three conditions who receive an incorrect diagnosis will suffer irreparable harm. More shocking is that the top five conditions in each of the big three categories make up almost half of all misdiagnoses that result in serious life-changing injury.
What’s the problem?
How can doctors make such serious mistakes when so much is at stake? While studies may pinpoint the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions, they do not offer one easy answer to this question. In fact, there may be as many reasons as there are mistakes. Some blame the inadequate equipment available to doctors or the wide variety of symptoms some conditions present in different patients.
You may ask yourself if your doctor really listened to your complaints, ran the appropriate tests and exhausted every possibility before writing a prescription or telling you the symptoms were all in your head. Additionally, since the process of diagnosing an ailment may involve numerous people, including lab workers, technicians and others, it may be necessary to investigate the chain of events from the moment you walked into your doctor’s office to determine where communication broke down that led to your tragic misdiagnosis.