Home » Women and minorities bear the brunt of medical misdiagnosis

Women and minorities bear the brunt of medical misdiagnosis

by The Grio

Charity Watkins sensed something was deeply wrong when she experienced exhaustion after her daughter was born.

At times, Watkins, then 30, had to stop on the stairway to catch her breath. Her obstetrician said postpartum depression likely caused the weakness and fatigue. When Watkins, who is Black, complained of a cough, her doctor blamed the flu.

About eight weeks after delivery, Watkins thought she was having a heart attack, and her husband took her to the emergency room. After a 5½-hour wait in a North Carolina hospital, she returned home to nurse her baby without seeing a doctor.

When a physician finally examined Watkins three days later, he immediately noticed her legs and stomach were swollen, a sign that her body was retaining fluid. After a chest X-ray, the doctor diagnosed her with heart failure, a serious condition in which the heart becomes too weak to adequately pump oxygen-rich blood to organs throughout the body. Watkins spent two weeks in intensive care.

She said a cardiologist later told her, “We almost lost you.”

Watkins is among 12 million adults misdiagnosed every year in the U.S.

In a study published Jan. 8 in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that nearly 1 in 4 hospital patients who died or were transferred to intensive care had experienced a diagnostic error. Nearly 18% of misdiagnosed patients were harmed or died.

In all, an estimated 795,000 patients a year die or are permanently disabled because of misdiagnosis, according to a study published in July in the BMJ Quality & Safety periodical.

Some patients are at higher risk than others.

Women and racial and ethnic minorities are 20% to 30% more likely than white men to experience a misdiagnosis, said David Newman-Toker, a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the lead author of the BMJ study. “That’s significant and inexcusable,” he said.

Researchers call misdiagnosis an urgent public health…

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