When you visit an outpatient clinic or the emergency room, you go into the situation relying on medical professionals to evaluate your symptoms, provide a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan to help you get better. While nurses, physicians, surgeons and specialists are some of the most trusted professionals in the nation, they are human and may make serious mistakes. One of the mistakes commonly made is when doctors fail to provide the right diagnosis or do not give a diagnosis at all.

Misdiagnosis is more common that you might think. A study published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety reported that as many as 12 million American adults who visit emergency rooms and outpatient clinics are misdiagnosed each year. This calculates to one in every 20 patients who are seen. Approximately half of those cases led to serious patient harm.

What are the factors that lead to this serious form of medical malpractice? Some cases involve the following most common contributors to misdiagnosis:

  • Failure to spend enough time with each patient
  • Unable to access patients’ full and accurate medical history
  • Doctors order the wrong screening tests and/or misread test results
  • Symptoms mimic those of other, more serious conditions
  • Cognitive errors made by lack of sleep and/or stress

If a doctor has been working long hours and is rushed from patient to patient, he or she may inadvertently overlook a key sign of an ailment. Furthermore, outpatient clinics and emergency rooms can be chaotic at times, and this may lead to misdiagnosis as well.

It is critical that you get a second opinion if you have any doubts about your diagnosis.