How common is misdiagnosis and why are complaints more common ?

It may be easier to answer the second part of our above question that the first.

There are probably 3 reasons why medical complaints are on the rise :-

  • The internet – in the same way as with law and other professions, the internet has provided an explosion of information, forums and opinions which enable all of us to find out a lot more than was previously the case. This is to an extent a dangerous thing since a “little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. American research indicates that as many as 8 out of 10 internet users will at some point visit medical or symptom checking websites and the tendency to self diagnose has even been give a new medical term, “cyberchondria”.
  • People are more aware of their rights and access to justice, with many law firms offering no win no fee, has meant it is now easier for someone who believes a mistake may have been made to pursue the matter.
  •  For reasons perhaps linked to the above and societal changes, the degree of unquestioning acceptance and respect for professional advice has diminished. This factor may also be linked with a perception that, for reasons of insurance or perhaps in some cases arrogance, when questions are asked about treatment or advice and a clear, straight answer or perhaps even an apology are not given, the matter ends up in the hands of lawyers.

 The extent of misdiagnosis

It is very difficult to get a precise handle on the extent of possible misdiagnosis. On the one hand, the number of successful claims made against the NHS in the UK is relatively low, with around 700 a year, although rising and most claims which are settled or publicised having reached court tend to be sizeable. Some research has indicated that the extent of misdiagnosis could be as high as 15% which would certainly be worrying if correct.

Even if the figure might approach the level suggested above, it is important to remember that, whilst as a society we seem to be more ready to criticise our doctors, we also seem to believe that they should be able to diagnose every condition immediately. We understandably worry that, given a delayed or incorrect diagnosis can in some cases be fatal or diminish recovery prospects but it is unrealistic to expect doctors to be 100% accurate in a very short space of time.

 Many complaints may in fact relate to delayed diagnosis rather than complete misdiagnosis, in the sense that the argument revolves around it taking too long to rule out other possible causes. In many cases, it can be unclear as to what the cause of illness or discomfort is, our bodies are complex and there is perhaps an irony that when consulting one of the many self diagnosis sites on the internet, when inputting symptoms, the results often come up with array of possible conditions or causes.

If the possible 15% figure were perhaps anywhere near accurate, the figures may also be distorted by the fact that, as with any walk of life, there are a few bad apples or those who through arrogance or ignorance, cause a disproportionate number of problems. A recent example of this is the alleged misdiagnosis and treatment of up to 1,000 patients by a single doctor in relation to breast cancer.

If you are concerned about possible medical misdiagnosis, Lloyd Green Solicitors can help investigate the issue for you.

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