Safety & Emergency Preparedness: Unveiling the Most Commonly Missed Diagnoses: A Closer Look at Diagnostic Errors in Medical Care

The most frequently missed diagnoses in outpatient clinics and medical centers are colorectal cancer, lung cancer, and breast cancer, according to a study in January 2022. The study, published in JAMA Network Open, also identified heart attacks and prostate cancer as commonly missed diagnoses.

The researchers analyzed data from patient safety reports, malpractice claims, conferences discussing patient complications and deaths, and feedback from focus groups. They found 836 instances of diagnostic errors, which helped them identify the top 10 missed or delayed diagnoses and understand the underlying issues.

This emphasizes a significant safety concern in modern healthcare. Around 12 million American adults are misdiagnosed yearly in outpatient settings, about 5% of patients.

Some experts believe the actual percentage might be higher. Another study in the BMJ medical journal estimates that roughly 795,000 Americans experience disability or death annually due to misdiagnosis. Various factors contribute to diagnostic errors. Communication breakdowns between patients and doctors can occur, with patients not accurately describing their symptoms or doctors missing important details in the patient's story. Errors can also result from incorrect or misinterpreted tests. Disorganized data in electronic medical records and unattended referrals can also play a role. Diagnostic errors happen for various reasons, often due to a combination of factors. Additionally, the complexity of diagnoses contributes to uncertainty in the process. With thousands of known diseases but limited symptoms, determining the exact cause of complaints like headaches, stomach pain, or back pain can be challenging.