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How race and ethnicity play a role in misdiagnosis

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One of the ways a medical provider can commit malpractice is through misdiagnosis, which can include delaying, completely missing, or giving a wrong diagnosis. Misdiagnosis is a common form of medical error and a leading cause of death.

As if these numbers were not troubling enough, the rates are even higher among minorities. Unfortunately, it appears that race and ethnicity affects the rate of misdiagnosis.

The data

Two studies in the U.S. National Library of Medicine looked at this discrepancy. The first study focused on psychotic disorders and discovered that African-Americans and Latinos received more diagnoses of schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses than people of European descent. The other study examined ADHD rates and treatment in children and found that minorities received fewer diagnoses and were less likely to be on medication to treat symptoms.

The reasons

The studies did not identify proven reasons for the large gaps in diagnosis between racial and ethnic groups, but they did make some conjectures. Possible explanations include:

  • Lack of sufficient health insurance
  • Distrust toward minorities, and other provider biases
  • Different diagnostic standards based on race and ethnicity
  • Under- or over-diagnosis of related illnesses that affect these numbers

Beyond these specific studies, reports have shown that overall health care for minorities is often of lower quality, which can also affect error rates. Understaffing, overbooking and underfunding in clinics can foster an environment that does not allow for enough time with patients and proper treatment. Additional factors may be language barriers and educational differences.

The consequences

With inconsistency and prejudice, misdiagnosis is far too common. Minority patients may not be receiving the care and attention they need, resulting in incorrect, untimely or overlooked diagnoses. This, in turn, prevents proper treatment or results in harmful treatment, both of which can ultimately lead to wrongful death.

If you believe that a medical provider has not met the expected standard of care, discuss your concerns with a lawyer with experience in medical malpractice cases.

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