Study Finds High Rate of Medical Misdiagnosis in U.S.

Katarina Siegfeld | October 8th, 2015

female patient with doctorA recently submitted report on medical misdiagnosis from the The Committee on Diagnostic Error in Medicine includes some surprising and disturbing statistics. The report suggests that almost all Americans will receive an incorrect or late diagnosis at one point in their lives. And the lack of a systematic means for tracking such errors means that the problem has not been addressed in a meaningful fashion at this point.

Dr. John Ball, the chair of the committee, notes that although the phenomenon is extremely serious, it is also not well understood. He told NBC News that “Everyone will experience one meaningful diagnostic error in their lifetime,” and went on to add that “We simply don’t know what the incidence of it is. We need to study it more to be able to do anything about it. It’s an under-represented, understudied area in medicine and we need to shine a light on it.”

Medical misdiagnosis study finds surprising number of mistakes

The study found the following information about the state of misdiagnosis in the U.S. Today:

  • The rate of diagnostic error for adults seeking outpatient care is 5% per year.
  • 10% of patient deaths are due in part to diagnostic errors, according to postmortem exams
  • Adverse events in hospital settings are due to diagnostic error 6 to 17 % of the time, according to medical records.

The committee members suggest some steps that should be taken to remedy the situation.  First, they propose that pathologists and radiologists should be more closely connected to the diagnostic phase of a patient’s treatment.  They also have suggested that medical malpractice laws should be altered so that medical professionals aren’t afraid to admit to mistakes.

They also think that better use of technology and changes in the culture of hospitals and other medical settings could be more conducive to correct diagnosis.  For instance, doctors don’t get reimbursed for actually talking to each other about diagnosis (or other issues), leaving no incentive for them to do so.  Dr. Ball lauds the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for reimbursing teams of doctors rather than making piecemeal payments.  In addition, the practice of doing autopsies has fallen off in recent years, removing a useful tool for understanding what went wrong.

Catastrophic consequences of late misdiagnoses

The incidence of misdiagnosis or late diagnosis is apparently so prevalent that some patients have the experience more than once.  For instance, Susan Sheridan has a son who suffers from cerebral palsy because multiple medical professionals failed to notice his severe jaundice not long after birth.  She also lost her husband Pat to cancer after medical professionals did not report their findings to each other in a timely fashion.

At The Sanders Firm, we can help you recover monetary damages owed to you if you or a loved one has suffered death or injury due to diagnostic errors or negligence.  Please call 1-800-FAIR-PLAY to set up a complimentary consultation with our NYC malpractice attorneys about pursuing a misdiagnosis lawsuit.


  1. NBC New York, Medical Study Exposes Number of Incorrect or Late Diagnosis http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/national-international/Wrong-Diagnosis-Medical-Errors-Death-Report-Americans-328688251.html

  2. NBC News, Getting It Wrong: ‘Everyone’ Suffers An Incorrect or Late Diagnosis http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/getting-it-wrong-everyone-suffers-wrong-or-late-diagnosis-n431496