Virginia patients may anticipate that a physician will provide a medical diagnosis when they seek treatment. A patient may even consider the possibility that a physician may not provide the correct treatment because of a failure to diagnose, incorrectly telling him that nothing is wrong. Virginia patients likely do not expect an overdiagnosis, however. Nevertheless, overdiagnoses are becoming more prevalent in the medical field.
An overdiagnosis occurs when a physician correctly diagnoses a patient at the very early stages of a disease. The diagnosis may occur at a time when treatment is not only unnecessary, but could also prove harmful. A false positive, in contrast, occurs when a diagnostic test provides an indication that a patient has a disease when she does not actually have the disease.
Overdiagnosis can commonly occur for women who undergo breast imaging as a screening mechanism for breast cancer. Sometimes abnormalities identified may actually be innocuous, rather than harmful to patients.
Overdiagnosis also occurs in the realm of mild traumatic brain injuries. Some physicians advocate the use of imaging to analyze brain changes after an injury, as well as observation and analysis of clinical symptoms, prior to moving forward with treatment. This multi-pronged approach may help avoid an overdiagnosis, and, therefore, avoid unnecessary and inappropriate treatment. An overdiagnosis of a brain injury may have unintended consequences, particularly if the overdiagnosis occurs when a patient actually has a psychiatric condition, as is possible given the potential overlap in symptoms. In such a scenario, a patient may not seek out the psychiatric help she needs if she is being treated for what she believes is a serious brain injury.
While an overdiagnosis differs from a traditional misdiagnosis, it can still prove tremendously damaging for a patient, and may even lead to a worsened medical condition. Patients in these circumstances may want to evaluate whether they want to seek legal help.
Source: DiagnosticImaging, "Q&A: Problem with Diagnosing, but Not Overdiagnosing, mTBI", Deborah Abrams Kaplan, Aug. 19, 2015