Even if you lead a very healthy lifestyle, you’re bound to feel ill every now and then. If your health takes a serious turn for the worse, you’ll probably depend on your healthcare providers to figure out why you’re sick and what to do about it.

But how dependable is that expertise?

Well, as it turns out, not dependable enough! The latest research shows that being misdiagnosed is a real danger that happens more often than you may believe.

Studies show about 100,000 Americans die or suffer from permanent disability each year because their medical diagnoses are just plain wrong.

What are the odds that your doctor or other healthcare provider will make a mistake and misdiagnose a condition that’s making you sick?

According to the National Academy of Medicine, “Most people will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime, sometimes with devastating consequences.”1

Those kinds of mistakes are shockingly frequent! Studies show that anywhere from about one in twenty to one in six diagnoses are incorrect. That’s a wide range, begging the question of what the real misdiagnosis rate is. But it leaves no doubt that there is a huge number of wrong diagnoses.2, 3

What’s more, researchers say certain types of diseases are most likely to be misdiagnosed and represent the greatest danger to your life and health.

When Diagnosis Goes Wrong

Researchers at Johns Hopkins focused on the problem of misdiagnosis. They pinpointed the three main categories of disease that lead to diagnostic errors. These categories cause a shocking 75 percent of serious “harms,” such as disability or death.4 These include:

  • Cancer: Misdiagnosed cancers lead to about 38 percent of all dangerous consequences of mistaken diagnoses. In many cases, these are cancers that are missed.
  • Vascular events: Problems like strokes, blood clots and heart attacks are also misdiagnosed and result in about 23 percent of the misdiagnosis harm noted by the researchers.
  • Infections: Misidentification of infections is linked to about 14 percent of disastrous misdiagnoses.

In their study, the Hopkins researchers concluded that in these categories, the most frequently missed cancer is lung cancer; the most often missed vascular event is a stroke; and the leading life-threatening infection that doctors misidentify is sepsis.

After those, the most problematic misdiagnoses that cause serious harm include: heart attacks, aortic aneurysms and dissection (when the aorta ruptures), blood clots in the lungs and leg, artery blockages that cut off blood to internal organs, encephalitis, spinal infections, endocarditis (heart inflammation usually caused by an infection) as well as skin, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers.

The study also showed that hospital emergency rooms were particularly prone to misdiagnosing strokes and other vascular events as well as infections. Meanwhile, outpatient clinics were more likely to miss cancers.

What’s the reason for all of these medical mistakes? The researchers believe it comes down to listening.

Doctors Don’t Listen to Patients Enough

According to researchers at Baylor, a big problem that causes misdiagnoses is that doctors are terrible at listening to their patients and paying attention to what they’re being told.

And according to the Baylor investigation, about 12 million medical patients a year are misdiagnosed – that’s five percent of all adults.5

So they recommend medical training include listening skills. And they urge doctors to strive to become better listeners and spend more time talking to patients – instead of rushing through appointments.

These researchers point out that in our current medical system, doctors don’t get reimbursed for listening to patients and putting their stories together. The result: they often don’t fully understand patients’ symptoms and therefore are more prone to make a mistake.

Given all of the serious dangers of misdiagnosis, there are ways you can—and should— lower your risk of having your doctor misidentify your condition.

How to Protect Yourself

First of all, you can bring someone along with you to your medical appointment. Having someone with you can provide extra input when you interact with your doctor and can give you feedback on how well your doctor seems to understand your health concerns.

If you have symptoms that are bothering you, before you visit a healthcare provider do some research on what those symptoms can mean. That way you can bring an informed perspective to your appointment and be better able to communicate about your discomforts and what they might mean.

The life you save may be your own!


  1. https://www.nap.edu/catalog/21794/improving-diagnosis-in-health-care
  2. https://qualitysafety.bmj.com/content/23/9/727.short
  3. https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE|A463176106&sid=googleScholar&v=2.1&it=r&linkaccess=abs&issn=03313131&p=AONE&sw=w
    &userGroupName=tel_oweb&isGeoAuthType=true
  4. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/dx-2019-0104/html#j_dx-2019-0104_ref_071_w2aab3b7c33b1b6b1ab2b2c71Aa
  5. https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMp1512241?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub 0pubmed