Medical misdiagnosis: How to protect yourself

(CBS News) Most people expect to go to their doctor for a solution to their ailment, but getting the correct diagnosis can be harder than you think. Medical misdiagnosis happens more often than previously predicted and a missed or wrong diagnosis can put the patient at risk, cause disability and even death.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) around 150,000 Americans are misdiagnosed per year, and one out of three of them die or are debilitated.

CBS News medical contributor Holly Phillips told "CBS This Morning: Saturday" that there are numerous reasons why the total number of misdiagnoses are increasing, but one of the major reasons is that we no longer have one family doctor.

"It used to be that your doctor knew you, your mom, your sister, and if there was a change in your symptoms, they picked it right away. Now we change doctors kind of like we change our shoes so they don't know us," she said. "The other thing is that patient volumes have gone up. Doctors are seeing more patients in the same amount of time, so the visits themselves are shrinking, and there's also just a failure to follow up on these diagnosis tests."

She pointed out that many times the physicians are so busy that once they order diagnostic testing they do not review the information thoroughly or quickly enough, leading to a missed or prolonged diagnosis. It's important to follow up with your doctors to make sure that this did not happen to you.

One fix for these problems is an electronic medical file that goes with the patient. That way, any physician that treats a specific person would be privy to their exact medical history.

"There are a lot of kinks in the system, and we need to have that medical information follow you everywhere," she said. "A hotbed of diagnostic problems happens in the emergency room, where the doctors don't know you at all. That's where you see life-threatening abdominal bleeding misdiagnosed as heartburn or even a stroke just misdiagnosed as dizziness. These are really areas that we hope we will see change both with medical records and with the way we think about diagnosing."

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Phillips said according to the JAMA study that between 40,000 and 80,000 Americans are thought to die from either missed or delayed diagnosis every year.

Watch the full discussion in the video player above

  • Shoshana Davis

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