While not every medical error leads to serious consequences, doctors who misdiagnose certain health conditions, including many cancers, may hinder your ability to recover. Unfortunately, physician errors are quite common across the United States, and they play a role in many patient deaths and adverse events in hospitals.

According to AARP, today’s primary care doctors misdiagnose about one-fifth of all serious medical conditions. This may be due in part to the fact that doctors only have a few hundred possible symptoms to consider when diagnosing you with one of more than 10,000 active diseases. The finding comes from a study of 286 patients who sought second opinions after their family doctors diagnosed them with something serious.

Misdiagnosis statistics

More than 20% of patients who receive serious diagnoses from their general practitioners receive the wrong diagnosis. Another 66% of them receive diagnoses that are only somewhat correct, meaning they required updating later on. Only 12% of patients who received serious diagnoses had their doctors tell them what was really troubling them during their initial visits.

Misdiagnosis consequences

There is no question about whether medical misdiagnosis has the potential to compromise patient safety. Studies show that roughly 10% of all patient deaths involve cases of misdiagnosis. Research also shows that diagnostic errors contribute to between 6% and 17% of all adverse events in hospitals.

Second opinions

Because medical misdiagnosis is so common, and because a mistake may have a big impact on whether your condition improves, consider getting a second opinion when your primary care doctor hands down a serious diagnosis. Diagnosis is difficult, and having a fresh set of eyes examining you may mean the difference between receiving an accurate diagnosis and one that needs updating or is completely inaccurate.

A correct diagnosis helps ensure that you begin the appropriate course of treatment for what is ailing you. It also helps reduce the risk of you undergoing expensive or invasive procedures you do not actually need.