July 11 (UPI) -- About 100,000 people are disabled or die each year due to a medical misdiagnosis, a study says, with a large proportion of them linked to just three groups of medical condition.
Nearly 38 percent of diagnostic errors that result in death or permanent disability are linked to lung cancer and other cancers, according to research published Thursday in Diagnosis. Another 22.8 percent of deaths and serious injuries are associated with strokes and other vascular events, and 13.5 percent come from infections such as sepsis. Together, these "big three" categories are responsible for the majority of misdiagnosed conditions.
Researchers in the new study say the large number of diagnostic errors resulting in medical issues or death requires some sort of fix, be it computer-based assistance, enhancing access to specialists, encouraging doctors to work more often as a team and reviewing feedback on diagnostic performance.
"We know that diagnostic errors happen across all areas of medicine. There are over 10 thousand diseases, each of which can manifest with a variety of symptoms, so it can be daunting to think about how to even begin tackling diagnostic problems," David Newman-Toker, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University and study lead author, said in a news release. "Our findings suggest that the most serious harms can be attributed to a surprisingly small number of conditions. It still won't be an easy or quick fix, but that gives us both a place to start and real hope that the problem is fixable."
The researchers looked at 11,500 diagnostic errors from malpractice claims between 2006 and 2015. The data came from 180,000 physicians at 400 hospitals from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
They found 71.2 percent of the "big three" diagnostic errors occurred in emergency departments or outpatient clinics. The most likely misdiagnosed illnesses in emergency departments were infections and vascular events, while clinics saw more misdiagnosed cancers.
According to a previous study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, medical errors are responsible for more than 250,000 deaths each year.
"Our current annual federal investment to fix diagnostic errors is less than what we spend each year researching smallpox, a disease eradicated in the U.S. over half a century ago," Newman-Toker said. "If we devoted appropriate resources to tackling misdiagnosis of the 'big three' diseases we identified, we could potentially save half of the people who die or are permanently disabled from diagnostic errors."