A Serious Medical Misdiagnosis: Have You Experienced Yours Yet?
A new report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine states that most of us will have at least one wrong or late diagnosis in our lives. And that incorrect or late diagnosis could be fatal. “Everyone will experience one meaningful diagnostic error in their lifetime,” said Dr. John Ball, chairman of the Committee on Diagnostic Error in Medicine, which wrote the report.
The problem is a serious one, according to the report. Consider these points:
- The report suggests that diagnostic errors contribute to 10 percent of patient deaths.
- Of those U.S. adults who seek outpatient care every year, at least 5 percent experience a diagnostic error.
- When it comes to adverse events in hospitals, medical records suggest that diagnostic errors account for 6 to 17 percent of them.
The last one is a bit vague in scope—after all, 6 to 17 percent is a fairly wide range. But the idea that all of us will experience a serious medical misdiagnosis during our lifetime is a chilling one—as is the suggestion that diagnostic errors contribute to one in ten deaths.
What’s the Problem?
The Committee on Diagnostic Error in Medicine concluded that information on diagnostic errors is hard to find, errors are often found too late, and few reliable ways to measure the errors exist. From what evidence is available, the committee determined that the errors stem from such causes as:
- Inadequate collaboration and communication among medical professionals, families, and patients
- Inadequate support of the diagnostic process by our health care system
- Limited feedback to medical professionals regarding the accuracy of the diagnosis
- Our health care system discourages transparency and public disclosure of diagnostic errors.
The committee believes that diagnostic errors will only get worse as our health care system grows more complex.
What’s the Solution?
The committee believes that we need to restructure the way we do things in the US health care system:
- Pathologists and radiologists should be more actively involved with the patient and their diagnosis.
- Medical malpractice laws need to be changed so that medical professionals will be motivated to admit mistakes.
- More autopsies are essential.
- A culture of greater openness is necessary at all medical institutions.
- The medical world should make better use of technology.
In short, we need to redesign the entire diagnostic process and require a commitment to change from every party in the system. Dr. Ball believes that a culture where hospitals and doctors feel free to admit their mistakes would be a step toward reducing such errors. “If people are afraid to speak up, then bad things can continue to happen,” he said.
When something goes wrong we are left to wonder.
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