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Study: misdiagnoses often due to rushed doctor visits

Michigan residents may be surprised to learn that the short amount of time primary care doctors spend with patients can sometimes cause misdiagnoses. A recent study found that diagnostic errors that take place in primary care offices are often related to the time constraints that physicians face when evaluating patients.

The study involved more than 200,000 medical records from four private clinics and a Veterans Affairs primary care facility. It found that many cases of misdiagnosis, some of them which led to medical malpractice claims, took place due to routine elements of office visits.

A staggering 80 percent of misdiagnoses were due at least in part to issues during the encounter between the doctor and the patient. This included medical history notes and mistakes during the physical exam. Sixteen percent of these misdiagnoses involved miscommunications between the medical professionals and the patients, or inaccurate medical histories. About 15 percent of missed diagnoses were due to poor follow-up and tracking of tests, and another 14 percent of medical errors involved the misinterpretation of test results.

The authors of this study believe that because so many of these diagnosis errors involve the basic structure of primary care office visits, the time crunch of the visits may be a main factor driving these errors.

The authors say that physicians spend a lot of time during the patient visits on the computer and doing administrative duties, so there is not enough time spent actually talking to the patients, and this contributes to errors.

Patients themselves can try to prevent primary care errors by completely communicating their medical histories and any problems, as well as reporting when conditions do not improve.

The rate of misdiagnosis in primary care remains low, but of course one misdiagnosis can have major consequences for the patient. Those who have suffered due to a misdiagnosis may be wise to seek legal counsel regarding their rights and possible options to file a medical malpractice claim.

Source: amednews.com, "Primary care time squeeze explains errors in diagnosis," Kevin B. O'Reilly, March 11, 2013

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