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What you need to know about false positives on medical tests

Misdiagnosis is a serious problem that affects many patients across the country. The fact of the matter is: Just one misdiagnosis can have life-altering consequences. In talking about misdiagnosis, quite often the focus is on mistaking one condition for another – like cancer for a metabolic condition. However, wrongly identifying a condition – a false positive – can also very much negatively impact the patient, not only in terms of their finances and physical health, but also their mental health.

How common are false positives?

It is difficult to know just how common false positives are in medical testing as a whole, but a recent study highlights some of the hidden dangers to testing.

Recently, NPR reported on a study that showed recommended lung cancer screenings end up finding many false positives. According to the study:

  • The CT scan used for the test costs about $300 and is not always covered by insurance.
  • Of those who opted into the scan, 55 percent were told they had lung nodules.
  • Of those where nodules were found, only 31 actually involved cases of cancer. The majority of these cases were in the early, treatable stage.

Look at those last two items again. That is not 31 percent. It is 31 cases. Out of around 2,000 scans. This is why re-testing and seeking a second opinion are both essential steps to take if you have been given a life-changing diagnosis.

What if you were misdiagnosed?

People do wind up being misdiagnosed – even outside of one CT scan – due to a number of reasons, including the misinterpretation of the test results and other doctor errors. In these cases, it is important for patients to have legal advice that adequately explains their options, including advising about possible claims for damages.