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October 28, 2015

A correct diagnosis is critical, because patients in Chicago hospitals can receive proper treatment only when their conditions are diagnosed properly. Troubling new reports, however, suggest that diagnostic errors are happening every day.

US News reported a groundbreaking new report released by the Institute of Medicine, describing the frequency of diagnostic errors and the consequences of mistakes. Failure to provide a correct diagnosis is a damaging type of medical malpractice because patients could get the wrong treatment or delayed treatment as their conditions worsen.

Diagnostic Errors Harm Thousands Annually

Misdiagnosis is so common the authors of the Institute of Medicine report warned: “most people will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime, sometimes with devastating consequences.” Full data is not collected on misdiagnosis, and the extent of the problem has not been adequately studied.

Yet, even with the limited data available, statistics show five percent of adults each year who seek outpatient care will either get a delayed diagnosis or an incorrect diagnosis. At least one out of 20 Americans has their condition misdiagnosed by their doctor, and a review of medical charts reveals diagnostic errors account for 17 percent of adverse events in hospitals.

Diagnostic errors can be deadly. Postmortem research revealed diagnostic errors play a role in causing one out of every 10 patient deaths. Diagnostic errors are also the leading cause of paid claims for medical malpractice and are almost twice as likely to result in the patient dying from the mistake, as compared with other medical error. The largest share of total medical malpractice payments comes from diagnostic errors.

Diagnostic errors frequently occur when physicians make superficial assumptions about a patient’s condition based on their past experience rather than on the current information a patient is providing to them. Poor coordination of medical care is also a leading cause of diagnostic errors. Poor coordination of care also creates a system in which errors are made as doctors, nurses, technicians, and lab personnel are forced to multitask and contend with countless distractions.

Following up regularly with a patient can help to reduce the risk of harm due to misdiagnosis, as medical providers can determine if treatment recommendations are working and symptoms being alleviated. Unfortunately, some doctors fail to follow up with patients and so conditions continue to go undiagnosed or the wrong treatment is delivered for a lengthy period.

An over-reliance on tests is also an issue, since there are multiple possible points of error. The wrong tests could be recommended, the results could be interpreted incorrectly, or providers could fail to follow up on test results with patients.

Finally, inadequate health information technology and a widespread failure to establish and adopt effective methods of record keeping is also contributing to the high numbers of diagnostic errors. Correcting the conditions leading to misdiagnosis should be a top priority for medical providers to increase the quality of patient care and to reduce the number of medical malpractice claims.

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