Money in Misdiagnosis

As doctors are humans themselves, they are subject to error. Unfortunately, in some cases, their errors leads to the misdiagnosis of a patient which results in incorrect treatment. When misdiagnosis occurs, the medical industry benefits financially because money has already been spent on the incorrect treatments the patient has received.

Money Lost in Misdiagnosis

While misdiagnosis is the result of a doctor making a mistake in the diagnosis process, in most cases, there is not enough evidence of malpractice. Sandra G. Boodman, a reporter for Kaiser Health News for The Washington Post, writes in her article, “Misdiagnosis is More Common Than Drugs Errors or Wrong-Site surgery,” about a women who was misdiagnosed and unable to hold the doctors accountable for their mistakes. Karen Holliman was diagnosed with fibromyalgia due to missed scans when in actuality she had breast cancer.

Boodman writes, “To make matters worse, Holliman was taking hormone replacement pills prescribed by her internist to combat hot flashes; the drug fed her breast cancer.” Because of Holliman’s misdiagnosis, she took medication that made her disease worse which could have been avoided if the correct diagnosis was made. Holliman was correctly diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in December 2010, almost three years after her initial diagnosis of fibromyalgia in February 2008. Boodman further writes, “Holliman said, a hospital lawyer called her case ‘a series of unfortunate events’ but denied that the hospital was liable for the delayed diagnosis.” The hospital was not held liable for Holliman’s original misdiagnosis because there was no evidence of neglect or malpractice from the doctors. The doctors simply made a mistake, they did not intend to misdiagnose Holliman.

(Getty Images)

Image from: KQED

While Holliman was correctly diagnosed in the end, there is no way to get the money back that was spent the past three years from receiving incorrect treatment and constant doctor visits. In most cases, no “true” malpractice is able to be proven, essentially making misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis a money maker itself.

Intentional Misdiagnosis in Mental Health

In the mental health field there has been cases where doctors deliberately misdiagnose for money. Stuart A. Kirk, a social worker and Herb Kutchins, author of Psychiatry: An Industry of Death wrote in, “Deliberate Misdiagnosis in Mental Health Practice” that, “Charges are made for services not provided, money collected for services to fictitious patients, or patients encouraged to remain in treatment longer than necessary are examples of intentional inaccuracy.” In other words, sometimes doctors in the mental health field deliberately misdiagnose patients or continue to give unnecessary treatment for a profit. Kirk and Kutchins argue that, “Diagnosis in mental health, now more than ever before, is a business act as well as a clinical one.” While the medical field is a business, doctors should not treat it as one.

The Cancer Business

When it comes to cancer treatment, chemotherapy drugs are a big business. Ty M. Bollinger, a cancer researcher in The Truth About Cancer: What you Need to Know About Cancer’s History, Treatment, and Prevention argues that, “Cancer drugs are the only class of pharmaceutical that’s administered directly from doctor to patient, as opposed to being prescribed by a doctor and fulfilled by a pharmacist on behalf of a patient” (77). In other words, chemotherapy comes directly from the doctor to the patient. Bollinger further writes, “Believe it or not, oncologists actually receive a financial kickback every time they prescribe chemotherapy drugs to their patients” (78). That’s right, doctors benefit financially from prescribing patients chemotherapy. It makes me wonder if this is the reason doctors misdiagnose people with cancer.

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Image from:

John McKenzie, an ABC News correspondent specializing in medical reporting, writes in “Misdiagnosed Cancer not Uncommon” about a man named Frank Barrerra who was 48 years old when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The only problem was, he didn’t have cancer at all. McKenzie states, “He was about to have his prostate removed… And then the call came in from the pathology department. A check of his biopsy slides showed there had been a mistake. There was no cancer.” In other words, Barrerra was misdiagnosed with cancer and was about to receive incorrect treatment for a disease he did not have. McKenzie further writes that, “When researches at The John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore reviewed tissue samples from 6,000 cancer patients across the country, they found one out of every 71 cases was misdiagnosed; for example, a biopsy was labeled cancerous when it was not.” In other words, in some cases, people are diagnosed with cancer when they do not have cancer at all.

What Needs to Change?

While I agree that doctors purposes are to help patients and they are not just there for a profit, the medical industry needs to make a change so that misdiagnosis does not occur as often as it does and money is spent on correct treatment. Victoria Sweet, author of God’s Hotel, writes in Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing about her own experiences as a physician and what needs to change. Sweet argues that medicine is moving too fast and needs to slow down. She writes about a case in which she was able to find a misdiagnosis of a patient through looking at his old charts. Sweet further argues, “… how important those pages were, to be able to read them, turn them, and go on to the next. Later, when electronic charts replaced those paper pages, such a review would be impossible” (43). In other words, if this case would have happened today, the misdiagnosis would not have been discovered because electronic charts would make it impossible.

While technology improves medicine, when it comes to the diagnosis process, in a way it hinders it. Electronic charts make it difficult for doctors to catch their mistakes opposed to ‘old-fashioned’ paper charts. The medical field needs to change the diagnosis process so that less misdiagnosis cases will occur and doctors will be able to catch their mistakes more easily, even if it means taking a step back to paper charts again.


Reference List

  1. Boodman, Sandra G. “Misdiagnosis is More Common Than Drug Errors or Wrong-Site ” The Washington Post, WP Company, 6 May 2013.
  2. Kirk, Stuart A., and Herb Kutchins. “Deliberate Misdiagnosis in Mental Health Practice.” JSTOR, The University of Chicago Press.
  3. Bollinger, Ty M. The Truth About Cancer: Everything you Need to Know About Cancer’s History, Treatment, and Prevention. Hay House Inc., 2016.
  4. McKenzie, John. “Misdiagnosed Cancer not Uncommon.” ABC News, ABC News Network.
  5. Sweet, Victoria. Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing. Penguin Publishing Group, 2017.








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