In a study published January 8 in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that nearly 1 in 4 hospital patients who died or were transferred to intensive care had experienced a diagnostic error. Nearly 18 percent of misdiagnosed patients were harmed or died.

In all, an estimated 795,000 patients a year die or are permanently disabled because of misdiagnosis, according to a study published in July in the BMJ Quality & Safety periodical.

Some patients are at higher risk than others.

Women and racial and ethnic minorities are 20 percent to 30 percent more likely than White men to experience a misdiagnosis, said David Newman-Toker, a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the lead author of the BMJ study. “That’s significant and inexcusable,” he said.

Researchers call misdiagnosis an urgent public health problem. The study found that rates of misdiagnosis range from 1.5 percent of heart attacks to 17.5 percent of strokes and 22.5 percent of lung cancers.

Weakening of the heart muscle — which led to Watkins’ heart failure — is the most common cause of pregnancy-realted death one week to one year after delivery, and is more common among Black women.

Heart failure “should have been No. 1 on the list of possible causes” for Watkins’ symptoms, said Ronald Wyatt, chief science and chief medical officer at the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, a nonprofit research and advocacy group.

Pregnancy-related deaths among Black mothers has increased dramatically in recent years. The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, non-Hispanic Black mothers are 2.6 times as likely to die as non-Hispanic White moms. More than half of these deaths take place within a year after delivery.

Research shows that Black women with childbirth-related heart failure are typically diagnosed later than White women, said Jennifer Lewey, co-director of the pregnancy and heart disease program at Penn Medicine. That can allow patients to further deteriorate, making Black women less likely to fully recover and more likely to suffer from weakened hearts for the rest of their lives.

Read the full article about patient misdiagnosis by Liz Szabo at The19th.