Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

These are the Medical Issues Doctors Most Often Miss

Colorectal cancer is the medical diagnosis that is most often missed in patient visits to outpatient settings. Lung cancer, breast cancer, heart attack and prostate cancer round out the top five.

That’s according to a study by the JAMA Network. 

“Combing through data from patient safety incident reports, malpractice claims, morbidity and mortality rounds (conferences that review patient deaths and complications), and focus group responses, researchers found 836 relevant diagnostic errors, which they used to identify the 10 most common missed or delayed diagnoses and explore what went wrong in the process,” says this article on the AARP website reporting on the survey. “The findings highlight what experts say is a key safety issue in modern medical care.” 

Each year, approximately 12 million people in the US receive an erroneous or delayed diagnosis in an outpatient setting.

“That’s about 5 percent of patients, though some experts say the percentage is likely higher,” according to AARP. “A new study published in the medical journal BMJ estimates that roughly 795,000 Americans become disabled or die each year because of a misdiagnosis…. Pneumonia, heart failure, kidney failure and urinary tract infections are among those often missed in the primary care setting, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.”


10 Most Commonly Missed or Delayed Diagnoses

  1. Colorectal cancer
  2. Lung cancer
  3. Breast cancer
  4. Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  5. Prostate cancer
  6. Stroke
  7. Sepsis
  8. Bladder cancer
  9. Pulmonary embolism
  10. Brain hemorrhage


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Risk Management for Patients

Following are some risk management pointers for patients, taken from “10 Conditions Doctors Often Miss” by AARP:

  • Keep a daily or weekly health journal, noting your overall health, vital statistics and any symptoms of illness.
  • Bring your notes to your appointment.
  • Create a personal health timeline if that would help your medical caregivers better grasp your condition.
  • Ask questions.
  • Request clarification of points you don’t fully understand.
  • Follow up by sticking to your treatment plan and tracking your progress (or lack thereof).
  • Contact your doctor if problems persist.
  • Sometimes a second opinion is warranted. This Mayo Clinic study found that 20 percent of patients who got a second opinion were given a different diagnosis, while 66 percent got a “refined or redefined” diagnosis.


SOURCES: 10 Most Commonly Missed or Delayed Diagnoses by Medical Condition

12 million American adults are misdiagnosed annually

Mayo Clinic researchers demonstrate value of second opinions - Mayo Clinic News Network


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