Less time with patients is main cause of primary care misdiagnoses

In many areas of business, efficiency is a laudable goal. However, the same cannot always be said in healthcare, where a person's life is potentially at stake. Despite this, many doctors are under pressure from insurance companies to see as many patients in a day as possible, which severely limits the amount of time a doctor can devote to each patient. According to a recent study, this limitation puts patients at risk, as it increases the risk of a physician error in the diagnosis.

In the study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers looked at medical records from 212,165 office visits to physicians and other healthcare professionals at four primary care clinics and a Veterans Affairs facility. From the records of the office visits, researchers identified instances where the patient had to visit a hospital, emergency room or urgent care facility within two weeks of visiting the primary care facility.

For these instances, researchers reviewed the medical records of the office visit to determine whether there was sufficient information in them which would have allowed the primary care physician to correctly diagnose the condition that later caused the patient to visit the hospital or emergency room.

The researchers then zeroed in on office visits where the primary care physician failed to diagnose the condition to identify why this happened. It was found that the majority of misdiagnoses fell into the following categories:

  • The physician did not order or timely follow up on a diagnostic test, leading to a failure to recommend further treatment.
  • There was a misinterpretation of a diagnostic test.
  • They physician did not have the ability to correctly identify the seriousness of the condition, because he or she did not consult with a specialist.
  • The patient's physical exam was not performed thoroughly.

The author of the study, Dr. Hardeep Singh, the limited amount of time available for a physician to see each patient is the chief cause of the misdiagnoses. According to Dr. Singh, physicians today are seeing more patients each day than was common in the past. In addition, much of a physician's day is spent doing administrative work. Both of these facts mean that there is less time left over to give each patient a thorough examination. As a result, many doctors base their diagnoses solely on what the main medical complaint is, which can sometimes mislead the physician into making the wrong diagnosis.

A medical malpractice attorney can help

It may be true that seeing more patients each day is the new norm in primary care medicine. However, the law does not see this as a justification when patients are harmed as a result of a misdiagnosis, especially when a serious disease such as cancer is missed. If you have suffered harm as a result of a misdiagnosis, an experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you hold the physician accountable for his or her actions.