According to a recent study published in the journal BMJ Quality and Safety, medical mistakes affect about 12 million patients in the United States each year.   Researchers found that at least one in 20 adults who seek medical care in an emergency room setting may be receiving the wrong diagnosis. The study also states that about 6 million, or half of the patients reviewed had a serious medical problem.

At first glance, these figures are very troublesome.  As patients, we look to our health care facilities and doctors to provide the highest level of care.  Seeking medical attention, especially during the wee hours of the morning, we do not expect to leave with the wrong diagnosis from an urgent care center.  But is this something we should be worried about?

Not necessarily.

Going to the emergency room typically means clinicians are dealing with a very high volume of patients, with a plethora of medical conditions.  Especially in a fast-paced urgent care center, this means mistakes are inevitable.  To say that medical personnel are infallible, is unfair.  Like any other profession, errors can be made. But patients can ensure that these errors are kept to a minimum by being their own advocates.

You can help make sure you are getting the right diagnosis and medical care by:

Making a list of medications you are taking.
Paying attention to your symptoms.
Making note of your regular habits.
Being forthright with the clinician taking care of you.

The more information you can relay to the doctor in the ER the better.  The doctor can make a better, more informed diagnoses this way.  The notion that “no news is good news” after leaving the ER, is a bad mistake.  Every patient should receive a phone call regarding their diagnosis and results.  That being said, patients need to be responsible for following up.

The ER is an ever-changing environment, which means you may need to take extra measures to get results compared to a regular doctor. If you do not receive a phone call for results, then you need to be persistent until you do.

In addition, inform your primary care physician that you are going or have been to an emergency care center.  They can assist the follow up and because of your history with them, provide a more comprehensive plan of care moving forward.

Taking the proper steps in an emergency medical situation can greatly reduce the number of cases of misdiagnosis we see.  Help your physician help you, and don’t forget to be your own advocate!