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Medical Misdiagnosis: Causes and Preventive Measures


Medical misdiagnosis is a serious diagnostic error that healthcare practitioners encounter. It is one of the biggest patient safety challenges that the US health care system faces. Each year, approximately 12 million people suffer as a result of misdiagnosis conducted by healthcare practitioners in emergency rooms and outpatient clinics across the US (Balogh, Miller, & Ball, 2015). Misdiagnosis can be defined as the act of giving a wrong diagnosis, which is identified from subsequent medical tests (Ehrlich, Schroeder, Ehrlich, & Schroder, 2017). Harm results from the failure to treat the specific illness that a patient suffers from. This negligence can cause serious medical complications, long-term injuries, or death. Misdiagnosis is caused by inadequate information, poor information synthesis, and incompetency, and a plethora of preventive measures have been implemented to enhance patient safety, including the incorporation of IT and investment in patient safety research.

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Causes of Misdiagnosis

Inadequate patient information is a major cause of medical misdiagnosis. Many patients who seek medical assistance from practitioners in emergency rooms and outpatient settings lack prior relationships with physicians. Therefore, the doctors have limited information regarding their medical histories. Moreover, these areas are usually crowded and the ratio of physicians to patients is unbalanced (Wears & Sutcliffe, 2020). Patient evaluations and diagnoses are usually conducted hastily without the caution and thoroughness needed for the maintenance of patient safety. For example, a physician may overlook a serious illness because of inadequate information regarding a patient’s medical history (Ehrlich et al., 2017). Additionally, a physician could ask the patient to undergo the wrong type of screening tests that fail to capture the illness.

Poor information synthesis and incompetence are also causes of medical misdiagnosis. Many diseases have common symptoms that require physicians to conduct further tests and screenings to eliminate them from a list of potential causes of disease (Balogh et al., 2015). In that regard, it is necessary to conduct a comprehensive synthesis of the information obtained from patient evaluations and laboratory tests. In certain cases, unskilled healthcare practitioners misread test results and misdiagnose the patient. For instance, the presence of lung cloudiness in test results could be a result of either pneumonia or lung cancer. This problem is exacerbated by a lack of meticulousness during diagnosis.

Preventive Measures

Misdiagnosis is one of the most dangerous and costly medical errors in the health care system. Several preventive measures have been put in place to mitigate its health and financial implications. These include the incorporation of information technology (IT) support, improvement of the medical liability system, and investment in diagnostic safety research. In many hospitals, IT specialists work together with doctors and nurses to improve the process. The incorporation of new technologies in diagnosis processes has necessitated the inclusion of IT professionals for enhanced accuracy and patient safety (Balogh et al., 2015). Better collaboration between technology vendors and health care provides has lowered cases of misdiagnosis immensely.

The medical liability system has been greatly improved, thus fostering learning from errors. Over the years, the justice system has compensated patients who have suffered as a result of misdiagnosis. As a result, many hospitals have improved their systems and enhanced training for physicians to lower cases of medical errors (Wears & Sutcliffe, 2020). In addition, many have increased their funding for research in patient safety. They have embraced innovative technologies that promote more accurate diagnosis processes and learning from errors. These measures have created environments and organizational cultures that are centered on patient safety.

Recommendations to Prevent Medical Misdiagnosis

Two measures that could be effective in reducing misdiagnosis include providing training on new diagnosis methods and making electronic health records (EHR) more interoperable. Current medical research has developed advanced diagnosis methods that are faster and more accurate (Balogh et al., 2015). Therefore, healthcare practitioners need to undergo periodic training to allow for the proper utilization of innovative diagnosis procedures and methods. Training should be a continuous process because new technologies are always developed, especially in the area of patient safety (Vincent & Amalberti, 2016). For example, healthcare facilities should collaborate with organizations such as the CDC and the National Academy of Medicine to educate their physicians about patient safety. Hospitals should ensure that they provide physicians with feedback and suggestions for improvement regarding their diagnostic processes (Balogh et al., 2015). The National Academy of Medicine identified diagnostic error as a blind spot in the field of medicine (Wears & Sutcliffe, 2020). They recommended the creation of large-scale error reporting systems that provide feedback and recommendations for improvement.

Inadequate information about a patient’s medical history is one of the major causes of misdiagnosis. This challenge could be mitigated by making the EHR system more interoperable so that doctors in various geographical locations can access the health records of patients (Vincent & Amalberti, 2016). Healthcare facilities should provide a means through which certified physicians can access their system and retrieve a patient’s medical history for improved diagnosis. Each hospital should create an EHR system and find a means to share that information. This measure would necessitate the use of advanced technology to ensure that unauthorized people do not gain access to the system to guarantee the confidentiality of patient information (Balogh et al., 2015). Misdiagnosis would reduce significantly if physicians easily accessed information regarding patients’ previous treatments and diagnoses.

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Misdiagnosis is a serious problem in health care today, causing many deaths, serious complications, and increasing the cost of health care. The major causes include insufficient patient information, incompetency, and inadequate information synthesis. Unskilled physicians misread test results or fail to conduct thorough evaluations. They misdiagnose patients and predispose them to serious complications and even death. Many hospitals have increased funding for research in patient safety and increased collaborations with IT specialists to mitigate the challenge of misdiagnosis. This medical error can be addressed by increasing training and promoting education among healthcare practitioners and increasing the interoperability of the EHR system.


  1. Balogh, E. P., Miller, B. T., & Ball, J. R. (Eds). (2015). Improving diagnosis in health care. New York, NY: National Academic Press.
  2. Ehrlich, A., Schroeder, C. L., Ehrlich, L., & Schroder, K. A. (2017). Medical terminology for health professions (8th ed.). New York, NY: Cengage Learning.
  3. Vincent, C., & Amalberti, R. (2016). Safer healthcare: Strategies for the real world. New York, NY: Springer.
  4. Wears, R. L., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2020). Still not safe: Patient safety and the middle-managing of American medicine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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