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Study Finds High Rate of Diagnostical Errors Among Medical Professionals

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Alexandrea Messner2 years ago

According to a report released by the Institute of Medicine, it is likely that everyone will get an incorrect or delayed diagnosis at least once in their lives.

This can have a range of consequences up from missed treatment, to something more devastating, maybe even death. Researchers from the study concluded that the neglect and inattention will only get worse as health care becomes more complex.  

Details of the Misdiagnosis Report

“It’s probably one of the, if not the, most under-recognized issues in patient safety… Much of the harm that we once labeled as inevitable we’re now seeing as preventable. It’s just incredulous to the public, we just too often accepted bad outcomes as the norm.” – Dr. Peter Pronovost, director of the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at John Hopkins as published by WTVR

WTVR reports, there are a number of factors that can lead to a misdiagnosis including inadequate communication and collaboration as well as a culture among doctors and clinicians that discourages the disclosure of mistakes, making it harder to learn from them.

Since there is limited information on diagnostic errors, it is difficult for researchers to get good measurements. Further, because there is more of a record of surgical errors or infections that patients acquire inside hospitals, this topic is easier for researchers to look into – meaning the surgical errors often gets more attention.

The lack of data also accounts for the high frequency of errors. According to Dr. Albert Wu, director of the Center for Health Services and Outcomes at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, there is a lack of feedback mechanisms meaning misdiagnoses often go unrecognized by the offending doctor.

Although Wu was not involved in the study, he is hopeful that it will set a course towards reducing mistakes.

Recommendations Made by Researchers

One important recommendation from the report states that Medicare and organizations that accredit health care organizations should require facilities to monitor how they are diagnosing patients; a requirement that does not currently exist.

A second recommendation from the report stated that the federal government should conduct autopsy studies to see of the patient died from the ailment that they were treated for. Unfortunately, since the average autopsy costs about $1,275, they have declined substantially since the 1960s.

The report also encourages doctors and nurses to make their patients feel comfortable so that they are more likely to open up. Fear can often cause patients to close up and hinder communication. According to another study, 87% of cancer patients did not report concerns that they care had been compromised.

The National Patient Safety Foundation and the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine use a checklist to make sure that patients get the right diagnosis.

Devastating Cases of Misdiagnosis
  • A 51-year-old woman with a family history of heart disease repeatedly asked her doctor’s office to refer her to a cardiologist for a stress test. Three months after her initial request, on the day of her appointment, she died because of significant coronary artery disease.
  • A doctor mistook a blood clot in the lungs of a 33-year-old woman for an asthma attack, leading her to her death.
  • An urgent care clinician misread an X-ray and diagnosed a 55-year-old man with an upper respiratory infection instead of pneumonia. He died as a result.
  • Doctors at a trauma center decided not to perform a CT scan on a 21-year-old stabbing victim and missed a knife wound penetrating several inches into his skull and brain.
  • A newborn baby suffered preventable brain damage when doctors failed to test for high levels of a chemical in his blood that had turned his skin yellow from head to toe.


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