795,000 Americans die, become disabled from misdiagnoses: Study

In the first study to quantify the burden of misdiagnoses across all healthcare settings in the U.S., researchers estimate nearly 800,000 people become permanently disabled or die from a diagnostic error, according to a study published July 17 in BMJ

Researchers from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute Center for Diagnostic Excellence and Boston-based Harvard Medical Institutions' Risk Management Foundation analyzed 21.5 million U.S. hospital discharges from 2012 to 2014. To approximate the burden of misdiagnoses, they used disease-based estimates for common conditions that usually cause serious harm when missed.

In the first national estimate of how many diagnostic errors lead to permanent morbidity and mortality in hospitals and clinics, the study estimates there are 795,000 serious harms every year. On a more conservative estimate, 549,000 misdiagnoses lead to patients dying or becoming permanently disabled. 

Incidences related to 15 conditions among the "Big Three" categories — major vascular events, infections and cancers — made up 50.7 percent of total serious harms, and the top five — stroke, sepsis, pneumonia, venous thromboembolism and lung cancer — accounted for 38.7 percent, the study found.

"Just 15 diseases account for about half of all serious harms, so the problem may be more tractable than previously imagined," the authors said in conclusion.

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