What Can Be Done To Reduce Diagnostic Errors

The medical journal BMJ Quality & Safety issued a report back in 2014 estimating that every year in Kentucky and the rest of the U.S., 12 million people are subject to diagnostic errors. Half of those errors, the report continues, may lead to harm. Another report, this time from the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, says that between 40,000 and 80,000 people die from diagnostic errors.

As for what can be done about diagnostic errors, the National Academy of Medicine, largely through the encouragement of the SIDM, came out with a report called Improving Diagnosis in Health Care that gives a thorough list of goals for the medical community. One goal is to create a safety culture that fosters improvement in diagnostic methods.

This culture cannot thrive, though, if clinicians are individualistic and do not recognize the collaborative nature of diagnosis. Another obstacle that the report brings up is the role that cognitive bias can play in diagnoses. Most medical students are simply taught by rote to recognize general patterns and not to consider the lesser-known symptoms of a given condition.

Technology may help in various ways. Simulations can improve training by using real-world data from clinical trials, and better event-reporting structures can let patients report misdiagnoses. The report also recommends a more effective use of health information technology.

Misdiagnoses can lead to unnecessary treatments and the worsening of the actual condition that patients have, all of which can cause physical and emotional harm. Under medical malpractice law, victims of a diagnostic error can be eligible for compensation if it is clear that the error was due to negligence: that is, a failure to live up to an objective standard of care. With legal representation, victims may seek a reasonable settlement covering medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.


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