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Cancer Misdiagnoses Surprisingly Common

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, February 7, 2013

For instance, while physicians will gather to discuss morbidity issues following a patient's death, or if there's a terrible surgical complication, "the doctors get together as a team and talk about it, what went wrong, what could have been done better," he adds.

For the most part, however, "the actual issues of misdiagnosis are missing."  In an alleged misdiagnosis, such as in the case of my acquaintance, "the first doctor may never know, unless it's reported by a patient," he adds. "There's no systematic way to know, unless someone comes back and says, 'Gee, did you hear what happened?' "

Too often, pathology tests related to cancer now are misinterpreted, which is reflected in the difficulties in diagnosing lymphoma. "Lymphoma is so hard to diagnose primarily because the pathologic classification is so challenging," says David Harrison, a physician at Best Doctors. "The classification schemata are quite complex and doing so accurately often requires a good deal of expertise."

While there are many discussions about medical error, in terms of wasted healthcare dollars, the issue of misdiagnosis referring to the stage of an illness, for instance, is not often the focus of reform efforts.

That should change.

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