Most people trust that their primary care physicians provide them with nothing but the most informed and accurate information regarding their health. While most doctors do their best to do just that, mistakes happen. Often times, those mistakes occur in the form of a missed or misdiagnosis.

A missed diagnosis refers to the complete lack of a diagnosis. A misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor makes a diagnosis, but it is either wrong or partially wrong. In some cases, a missed or misdiagnosis is a moot point, as the problem will run its course and the body will heal itself. In many others, however, an inaccurate diagnosis can lead to dangerous or even fatal consequences.

The prevalence rate of missed and misdiagnoses

According to docpanel, over 12 million American adults receive a misdiagnosis each year. That translates to roughly 5% of adults, or one in 20 individuals. This figure is alarming in and of itself, but it is even more so because it does not take into consideration all the individuals who never receive a second opinion.

An estimated 10-20% of patients who receive a wrong diagnosis are those who have serious medical conditions. Another 44% involve some type of cancer, while 28% are either life-changing or life-threatening. In fact, according to AARP, diagnostic errors contribute to roughly 10% of all patient deaths and 6-17% of adverse hospital events.

The importance of a second opinion

Many people hesitate to seek second opinions either because they trust their primary care doctors or because they fear they will offend their family doctors. Yet, seeking that second, or even third or fourth, opinion is wise.

One study found that 66% of patients who sought second opinions required some changes to their initial diagnoses. Another 20% received an entirely new diagnosis. In only 12% of cases did the referral doctor confirm the initial doctor’s diagnosis.

There are over 10,000 diseases and only 200 to 300 symptoms. This makes diagnostic extremely difficult. As AARP says, not every patient will require a second opinion, but for those who do, getting it can result in better health outcomes and cost savings.