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Outpatient Diagnostic ErrorsMisdiagnosis is proven to be a serious concern for hospitals and may lead to patient harm, incorrect or delayed treatment, wasted resources and malpractice lawsuits. A wrong diagnosis by a healthcare professional can also result in medical coding errors. Inaccurate codes in medical bills can lead to medical office financial problems such as delayed payments, reimbursement denials, costly fines and loss of revenue. Even though, patient misdiagnosis has always existed as a major problem in the medical field, the number of cases reporting misdiagnosis issue has increased significantly.

A recent population-based estimate reveals that around 12 million adults in the US who seek outpatient care are misdiagnosed annually. This figure amounts to at least 1 out of every 20 US adults and the study found that this could potentially lead to severe harm for the patient. The study was partially funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the results were published online in the April 17, 2014 edition of the journal BMJ Quality and Safety.

In order to determine the frequency of diagnostic errors in US outpatient care every year, researchers combined inferences from three large observational studies involving U.S. adult populations. They used data from three previous studies of errors in general primary care diagnosis, lung cancer diagnosis and colorectal cancer diagnosis.

In all the three studies, a detailed review of all the medical records was done to check whether any diagnostic error had occurred and these errors were confirmed through rigorous chart review. To estimate the annual frequency of misdiagnoses, the proportion of errors found was directly applied to the large population of all outpatient visits and to the total US adult population. Researchers found that about half of the diagnostic errors they found could have severely harmed the patients.

The authors of the study reveal diagnostic errors can harm patients by delaying their treatment. Their findings should encourage new efforts to monitor and curb the numbers of misdiagnoses. For example, a possible delay or incorrect diagnosis could make the disease more complicated to treat or more deadly. The research found that more than 6 million patients a year in the US could come across instances when a misdiagnosis could possibly lead to a deadly delay in the treatment of cancer or other such serious disease.

While combining the estimates (taken from three previous studies), outpatient diagnostic errors was recorded at the rate of 5.08% or approximately 12 million US adults on a yearly basis.

Researchers expect that this study will provide a strong foundation for healthcare organizations, healthcare professionals and policy makers to build up their future efforts to reduce diagnostic errors.