While hospitals frequently treat patients with serious medical conditions, the opportunity for an initial diagnosis often starts with a primary care physician during regular office visits. These doctors see their patients on a regular basis and are generally more knowledgeable about patients’ medical histories and possible signs of dangerous conditions. This provides an optimal chance for life-saving diagnosis. Yet, primary care doctors can misdiagnose a condition, which could lead to serious problems down the road for the patient.
Primary Care Misdiagnosis is a Common Problem
A study published in the Washington Post reported that primary care physicians misdiagnose more than 20 percent of their patients with serious medical conditions. These findings fall in line with a National Academy of Medicine finding that most individuals will experience a misdiagnosis at some point in their lifetime. For some of these individuals, a missed or errant diagnosis has fatal consequences. Some of the most common conditions misdiagnosed by primary care physicians include:
- A primary care physician may dismiss a small mole, abdominal complaints, or a troublesome cough without ordering diagnostic cancer tests. Cancer becomes more severe with time, so delayed or missed diagnosis can place a patient at significant risk of death.
- Heart attack. Heart attack patients often have few, if any, symptoms prior to the onset of the attack. However, certain risk factors like high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels should raise concerns for a family doctor.
- The speed of treatment is essential to survival and rehabilitation after a stroke, but the symptoms of this potentially deadly condition are often missed. Primary care physicians may improperly diagnose a stroke as a migraine headache, hypoglycemia, or dehydration.
- Aortic dissection. This condition results from a tear in the walls of the aorta. According to Everyday Health, aortic dissection can be deadly if left untreated. However, symptoms of the condition can be extremely confusing. Symptoms such as low blood pressure and dizziness coupled with chest and pain back can be mistaken for other, less serious conditions.
Why Primary Care Misdiagnosis Occurs
A report by American Medical News discusses reasons why primary care physicians miss critical diagnoses. Some of the most common causes include:
- Inadequate patient encounters
- Missed medical histories
- Inadequate testing follow-ups
- Failure to properly refer
- Misinterpretations of test results
These mistakes, in combination with time constraints and inadequate staffing, can lead to life-threatening misdiagnoses by a primary care physician. It is important for patients to seek second opinions, particularly when dissatisfied with the conclusions of a family doctor.
Our Medical Malpractice Lawyers Holding Doctors Accountable for Misdiagnoses
When primary care physicians fail to properly diagnose serious medical conditions, the experienced Baltimore and Washington D.C. medical malpractice attorneys of Schochor, Federico and Staton, P.A. help you fight for the justice you deserve. We serve clients throughout Maryland and Washington D.C., as well as national plaintiffs in major class action litigation. Contact our office today at (888) 234-0001 for a consultation.