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Report reveals frequency of misdiagnoses in U.S.

When suffering from unexplained medical symptoms, many Americans schedule a visit with their primary care physician. This first step in diagnosing an illness is typically done on an outpatient basis, with doctors gathering information and running tests. Unfortunately, the conclusions made by doctors are often inaccurate, leading to misdiagnoses that can have serious consequences.

According to a recent study — published in BMJ Quality & Safety — approximately 12 million Americans are misdiagnosed during outpatient doctor visits each year. The researchers also concluded that about 50 percent of those individuals — or around 6 million people — suffer serious harm as a result of the misdiagnosis.

The researchers involved in the study gathered data from approximately 3,000 medical records to determine the rate of misdiagnosis in the U.S. They concluded some 5 percent of all diagnoses are inaccurate.

What can you do to protect yourself from a misdiagnosis?

Doctors hold the ultimate responsibility to make proper diagnoses and recommend appropriate treatments to resolve medical problems. In an ideal world, doctors would spend enough time with patients to gather sufficient information to make accurate diagnoses on every occasion. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself from diagnostic errors. Come prepared to your doctor's appointment. Jot down a list of questions or the history of your symptoms prior to the appointment, to ensure you don't forget anything important. Bring a list of all the medications you take or the medications themselves to the appointment.

When an illness proves complicated, you may be sent to a specialist. In these cases, it is always a good idea to keep your primary care doctor in the loop. Ask any specialist you see to ensure all test results and records are shared with your primary care physician — that way, you know one person will always have a full record of your medical history.

After receiving a diagnosis, do not hesitate to obtain a second opinion if your symptoms do not improve. Even if you are comfortable with the original diagnosis, it may be helpful to ask another medical professional for his or her opinion.

When a doctor fails to properly diagnose an illness, the consequences can be disastrous for the patient. If you or someone you love has been harmed due to a doctor's misdiagnosis, you should consider your options to recover financially for the damage done. Your first step should be seeking the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney, who will work to ensure your interests are protected.