A Misdiagnosis Can Be Deadly, So Why Are One in Ten People Misdiagnosed?Visiting a doctor can be scary, especially when you have an onset of new symptoms and have no explanation as to why. When you visit a doctor, your hope is to get answers to all of those questions, but what happens if they give you the wrong answer? Being misdiagnosed by a medical professional only makes matters worse for you and your family.

The Big Three: which types of conditions are misdiagnosed the most?

There are three categories of medical conditions that are frequently misdiagnosed, according to a study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The big three are vascular events, infections, and cancers. Among the Big Three categories, there are several events or conditions that are most commonly misdiagnosed.

The same study found that one in 10 patients with symptoms that are typically caused by the Big Three were actually misdiagnosed. Considering this, one out of every 20 misdiagnosed conditions lead to serious injury or harm.

The Big Three did not get their name for no reason and being diagnosed with any ailment in these categories can be life-changing. That is why it is important that precautions are taken by doctors and medical staff to ensure the diagnosis is correct.

Vascular events

In the vascular category there are:

  • Myocardial infarction
  • Stroke
  • Venous Thromboembolism
  • Aortic Aneurysm and dissection
  • Arterial Thromboembolism


Many people feel that an infection is not a big deal and it will go away on its own. That is why misdiagnosed infections can sometimes go overlooked. However, an untreated infection can lead to more serious issues down the line. The five infections that are most often misdiagnosed are:

  • Sepsis
  • Meningitis and Encephalitis
  • Spinal Abscess
  • Pneumonia
  • Endocarditis


For most people, the scariest misdiagnosis is cancer. You may be thinking to yourself that the chances of your doctor misdiagnosing you with cancer is slim, but misdiagnosis is more common than you might think. For example, being diagnosed with cancer can lead to painful chemotherapy treatments and a lifetime of medications and doctor visits. This type of diagnosis can alter the entire trajectory of your life. Any plans for the future can be altered and you may begin to wonder if a normal life will ever be possible again. To learn that you never actually HAD cancer can be just as devastating as having your cancer misdiagnosed as another condition.

The most common cancers that are misdiagnosed are:

  • Lung Cancer
  • Breast Cancer
  • Colorectal Cancer
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Melanoma

Medical misdiagnoses by the numbers

The Johns Hopkins study found that the rates of misdiagnoses are shocking. The rate for a misdiagnosed heart attack is 2.2% while a spinal abscess is misdiagnosed 62.1% of the time. It also found that harm caused by a misdiagnosis was 1.2% for myocardial infarction on the lower end and was at 35.6% for a spinal abscess on the higher end.

These numbers can be shocking to many and may even have you questioning whether or not you should seek medical care. You should. Remember that as more research becomes available, new safeguards can be put in place to prevent these medical errors. However, if a doctor misdiagnosis you, or missed out on an accurate diagnosis completely, he or she (and potential the hospital or practice in which he or she works) could be held accountable if you suffered harm as a result.

How do misdiagnosis errors happen?

The burning question on everyone’s mind is “How do misdiagnosis errors happen in the first place?” Unfortunately, there is no single answer to that question as there can be a variety of factors, including negligence. Dr. Newman-Toker explains it best when he says, “We don’t miss strokes when someone’s paralyzed on one side and can’t talk.… We only miss strokes when they’re subtle when they’re not obvious.”

This is a specific example but can be applied in other misdiagnoses. Medical professionals may ignore certain details because they don’t fit into a pattern normally associated with a specific illness. Their own biases may affect how they view and diagnose patients. In some cases, there is not adequate testing done prior to a diagnosis, or the treatment plan is incorrectly administered. This is where mistakes and errors happen.

The reason that some conditions are properly diagnosed and some are not may lie in the fact that some conditions like heart attacks have been made a priority in diagnostic testing. If other conditions are also prioritized properly then misdiagnosis will happen less often. The US House of Representatives has been presented with a bill that would fund new research to help improve the misdiagnosis rate.

Can you avoid a misdiagnosis by your doctor?

When you seek medical treatment, you put your trust in the doctor or other medical professional you are seeing. You trust that they know what they are doing and that your condition will improve based on their diagnosis. Although better technology, training, and communication on the medical professionals are the real actions needed to stop misdiagnoses, there are some things patients can do as well:

  1. When you are preparing for your appointment, take a hard look at your ailments and summarize your problem. You should focus on the order of events from the time you first noticed the issue until the present moment you are seeing the medical professional.
  2. You should also ask questions about your condition to your physician. Ask about the worst possible scenario and best possible scenario. Without complete confirmation, your doctor should be able to answer all of these questions.
  3. Seek a second opinion if you feel your need were not addressed, or that the doctor isn’t listening to what you have to say. If the doctor tries to brush you off, it may be time to find a new doctor.

If you have been misdiagnosed and suffered harm or underwent unnecessary medical procedures, you have options for compensation. The experienced Memphis medical malpractice attorneys at Bailey & Greer, PLLC, understand the challenges of being misdiagnosed by a doctor. You can recover compensation for your injuries. Contact our office at 901-475-7434, or complete our contact form to schedule a consultation today at our Memphis or Jackson offices.