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How often do doctors make diagnosis mistakes?

There are two main types of diagnosis mistakes. First, the doctor may miss the disease entirely. This is a missed diagnosis when the doctor overlooks something or even tells you that you're healthy when you're not. The second is a misdiagnosis when the doctor knows that there is a problem, but he or she simply thinks it is something else. An example could be telling you that a spot on your skin is a wart when it's actually skin cancer.

But how often does this happen? You trust your doctor. You want to believe they would not make this type of mistake. You want to trust them when they tell you that you're healthy or when they explain what they think is wrong.

Unfortunately, though this may shake your trust, some experts say that doctors either miss a diagnosis or get that diagnosis wrong in roughly 40 percent of cases. While this does mean that they're right more than they're wrong, it's not as vast of a difference as you'd expect.

On top of that, the rate could be higher. Many mistakes never get reported. Some patients pass away, and the family doesn't follow up, for instance. Others assume that the disease or disorder didn't develop until later. Many more don't understand that the doctor made a mistake at the beginning. If every error got reported, would that push things closer to a 50-50 split?

What you need to know is that your doctor is not perfect. Mistakes happen. When they do, it is important to understand what steps you can take.

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