A new study by researchers at the University of Glasgow and the University Hospital of Edinburgh has found that doctors are misdiagnosing a range of health conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.
The research, published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Therapeutics, used a model of chronic heart failure to examine the association between health outcomes and the health of a population.
“The study is the first to demonstrate the relationship between a health condition and health outcomes in a population and its implications for the health care system,” said Dr David Kroll, lead author of the study and a PhD student at the university.
“It raises the question of whether or not it is possible to identify a high-prevalence condition in the population and then to treat it with an appropriate treatment plan.”
In the study, which looked at more than 6,000 people in Scotland over a period of two years, researchers found that there was a positive association between a high prevalence of heart failure in a country and a higher risk of diabetes, hypertension and other health conditions.
They found that high prevalence also had an impact on other health outcomes.
“We looked at the relationship of health care use and a range.
In the case of diabetes and hypertension, we found that the higher the prevalence of diabetes in the sample, the higher their prevalence was,” said Professor Michael O’Sullivan, a research fellow in the School of Health Sciences at the Glasgow School of Medicine.
“In the case with obesity, we saw that the prevalence was higher in areas with high rates of obesity.”
“This shows that there are different patterns of health risk in a society and that the way health care is structured can have a significant impact on how people behave,” he said.
“When we looked at all of the health risks that we identified in the study that we looked into, we also looked at a wide range of factors and concluded that, for example, people with a high level of education were at higher risk than those with less education.”
“In this study, we have shown that people with high-concern health conditions are being wrongly diagnosed by doctors,” Dr O’Brien added.
“This can lead to misdiagnosis and can even cause harm to people with these conditions.”
In this model of acute heart failure, the researchers identified health conditions with high prevalence and calculated how many patients had been misdiagnised.
The average number of people misdiagnose in a year was 4,000.
They used the data to analyse the associations between the health conditions and the outcome of a community.
“There was an association between the presence of high-level health conditions, and in particular high-probability heart failure and high-hazard diabetes,” Professor Kroll said.
“[However] there was no association between high-stress health conditions like obesity and high rates or prevalence of high risk heart failure or high-premise obesity.”
Low-risk diabetes is not the only high-profile health condition that doctors could be misdiagnising.
Professor O’ Sullivan said the results suggested that a large number of health problems could be missed by doctors in some circumstances.
“You can imagine how frustrating it is when you go into a clinic and there’s someone who looks like they are just very sick but is actually not.
That’s not the way we do things in our practice,” he explained.
“What we would hope to achieve is to find ways of identifying people with particular diseases and using interventions to help them manage their health, rather than relying on clinicians to do that.”
“If there is a risk for misdiagnoses, we would like to see it addressed so that patients are not just treated inappropriately,” he added.
A further analysis of the data found that people were more likely to be misidentified by health professionals if they were overweight, which is higher than a range known to cause cardiovascular disease and high blood pressures.
“These are things we should be looking at,” Dr Kroll concluded.
The study is published in Clinical & Experiments in Clinical Medicine.