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Fifth of patients with serious illnesses are initially misdiagnosed

Diagnosing an illness is not an easy task for any doctor. There are thousands of possible diseases, and even with advancements in medical technology, doctor still rely on a relatively small sample of symptoms to make their diagnoses. However, a recent study says that 20% of patients who turned to a second opinion following a serious diagnosis had been substantially misdiagnosed in the first place.

A large percentage of other cases benefited from a second opinion, which usually deepened and provided additional information to support the initial diagnosis, according to an article by the Washington Post.

The odds of a misdiagnosis

What are the chances of a misdiagnosis? New research sought to answer this question, in order to further the conversation regarding the efficacy of our health care system. In order to do so, researchers examined a series of cases—286 to be exact—stemming from people that had asked the Mayo Clinic for a second opinion.

As a caveat: these were people with serious enough conditions to seek second opinions in the first place. However, from the data, researchers found that, in 62 cases (21%), the second diagnosis differed in distinct ways from the first diagnosis. In 36 cases (12%), the diagnoses matched exactly, and in the remaining 188 cases, the second diagnosis at least partially matched the first, though in most instances the second diagnosis refined or better defined the first one.

Why do misdiagnoses happen?

As long as we entrust our health and medical care to human beings, mistakes are bound to happen. Even with advances in technology and techniques, we are still relying on human experts, for the most part. According to a senior fellow at RTI International and featured in the Post article, there are some 10,000 diseases, yet doctors rely on some 200 or 300 symptoms to achieve the diagnosis.

In serious cases, or in instances in which a patient isn’t responding to medicine, doctors and health experts urge people to get a second opinion. Another set of eyes on a problem will usually do more good than harm.

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