When doctors make diagnostic errors, the severity of their consequence depends on what illness or condition they misdiagnose. Unfortunately, a John Hopkins Medicine report suggests that the things the doctors are most apt to get wrong are the ones that matter most.
The study found three-quarters of medical misdiagnoses relate to either cancer, vascular events or infections. All three things can prove deadly if not identified and dealt with in time.
What can hospitals do to reduce diagnosis errors?
The report also looked at where and why errors occur, which gives us clues as to what hospitals can do to reduce the risk.
- 71% of these errors occurred in transitional settings: Doctors are under tremendous pressure to move patients through emergency rooms and outpatient clinics. Haste makes mistakes more likely.
- 85% of the errors were due to clinical misjudgment: In other words, the doctors that we rely on to make the correct diagnoses are far less reliable than we think.
Does that mean we can no longer trust medical professionals? No. It means that instead of believing a doctor will get it right, hospitals need to assume they will get it wrong.
Additional training could help, but other backup systems are needed to prevent patients from leaving with the wrong diagnosis. For example, the chance that two doctors will come to the same erroneous conclusion is lower than the chances of a single doctor doing the same. Technology can also play a vital role. Again, there is less risk of a doctor and a computer program both getting it wrong.
Hospitals could also increase follow-up with the patient. That could catch errors while there is still time to reverse their fate. A medical malpractice claim cannot reverse the harm a diagnosis error does, but it can bring some relief to your future.