Diagnostic errors occur when a physician fails to diagnose a condition or diagnoses it incorrectly. Such errors can result in death and other high-severity harms to patients.
A study published in the journal Diagnosis sought to identify the diseases most often related to misdiagnosis harms to patients. Researchers discovered that three diseases caused three-quarters of all severe misdiagnosis errors.
Which diseases are responsible for the most diagnostic errors?
Researchers started referring to the diseases responsible for the most diagnostic errors as the “Big Three”: cancer, infections and vascular events. Of the three, the most frequently misdiagnosed was cancer, responsible for 37.8% of all high-severity cases of diagnostic errors. Vascular events were second, accounting for 22.8% of all high-severity cases, while infections accounted for 13.5% of all diagnostic error high-severity cases.
What specific conditions in each category were responsible for the most diagnostic errors?
Cancer, vascular events and infections are all broad categories, each encompassing multiple, more specific conditions. Some of these were more likely to result in diagnostic errors than others, according to the study. For example, the most frequently misdiagnosed cancer is lung cancer. Stroke is the vascular event most susceptible to misdiagnosis, and sepsis is the type of infection most prone to diagnostic errors.
What are some examples of other frequently misdiagnosed conditions in each category?
While lung cancer showed the greatest number of diagnostic errors, breast cancer and colorectal cancer showed comparable numbers. In addition to stroke, frequently misdiagnosed vascular events include myocardial infarction and venous thromboembolism. Collectively, encephalitis and meningitis were the infections most susceptible to misdiagnosis after sepsis.
The goal of the study was to identify areas in which the most work is necessary to prevent diagnostic errors.