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The risks and complications associated with misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis can result in delayed treatment, complications, further illness or even death.

Poet and essayist Alexander Pope once famously said that "to err is human." As human beings, we understand that some mistakes, like accidentally putting salt into our morning coffee instead of sugar or wearing two different-colored socks, are inevitable. Nevertheless, we all expect that our doctors won't make errors when our lives are on the line. Sadly, though, misdiagnosis and failures to diagnose are all too common.

A recent study released by the Mayo Clinic health system shows that about 20 percent of all patients with a serious illness are first misdiagnosed. Furthermore, the National Academy of Medicine estimates that about 12 million patients are misdiagnosed or left without a diagnosis each year.

The impact of misdiagnosis

In some instances, a misdiagnosis will be caught relatively quickly, with no additional harm to the patient. If, for example, a patient was initially thought to have a bruised rib, but a further look at the X-ray shows a hairline fracture, there likely won't be much of a difference in treatment protocol or end results. The patient's ribs will be taped either way, pain medications could be administered, and physical therapy might be ordered in time.

In other cases, however, misdiagnosis can prove to be fatal. Should a patient come into the emergency room suffering a heart attack, only to be told that he had a panic attack and can go home, his heart could suffer irreparable damage. Without treatment, say to remove a blockage in his coronary artery, he could easily suffer another heart attack and die.

Misdiagnosis of some conditions, particularly cancers, or failure to timely diagnose them, can be devastating for patients. Many types of cancer can be effectively treated if caught early enough. This is particularly true for breast cancer.

Stage I breast cancer has, according to the American Cancer Association, nearly a 100 percent five-year survivability rate. Once the cancer has progressed to Stage III, however, the survivability rate drops to only 72 percent. The statistics for Stage IV cancer are even bleaker: only 22 percent of these patients survive for five years after diagnosis. Such progression could happen in as little as a few months, depending on the patient's circumstances.

Catching the cancer early enough can literally mean life or death. Dismissing a lump as a benign cyst without testing, misinterpreting test results, mixing up patient records or failing to detect cancerous growths on a mammogram can all add up to delays in treatment, during which time the cancer continues to grow and spread. This might mean that the patient has to undergo a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy, or take months of chemotherapy or radiation treatments in addition to surgery.

If you or someone you love has been misdiagnosed or untimely diagnosed, you may be able to bring a legal claim for additional medical expenses, related costs and pain and suffering because of the physician's negligence. To learn more about legal options in a free initial consultation, contact the Queens area law offices of Futterman, Sirotkin & Seinfeld, LLP. Send them an email or call them toll free at 866-679-2513.

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