Medical Tuesday Blog
Misdiagnoses Are Harmful And Costly
The Biggest Mistake Doctors Make are harmful and costly. But they’re often preventable.
WSJ Health Care Reports
by Laura Landro
A patient with abdominal pain dies from a ruptured appendix after a doctor fails to do a complete physical exam. A biopsy comes back positive for prostate cancer, but no one follows up when the lab result gets misplaced. A child’s fever and rash are diagnosed as a viral illness, but they turn out to be a much more serious case of bacterial meningitis.
Such devastating errors lead to permanent damage or death for as many as 160,000 patients each year, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Not only are diagnostic problems more common than other medical mistakes—and more likely to harm patients—but they’re also the leading cause of malpractice claims, accounting for 35% of nearly $39 billion in payouts in the U.S. from 1986 to 2010, measured in 2011 dollars, according to Johns Hopkins.
The good news is that diagnostic errors are more likely to be preventable than other medical mistakes. And now health-care providers are turning to a number of innovative strategies to fix the complex web of errors, biases and oversights that stymie the quest for the right diagnosis. . .
Part of the solution is automation—using computers to sift through medical records to look for potential bad calls, or to prompt doctors to follow up on red-flag test results. Another component is devices and tests that help doctors identify diseases and conditions more accurately, and online services that give doctors suggestions when they aren’t sure what they’re dealing with. . .
“Diagnostic error is probably the biggest patient-safety issue we face in health care, and it is finally getting on the radar of the patient quality and safety movement,” says Mark Graber, a longtime Veterans Administration physician. . .