They were counting on us never finding out…
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Huge (hidden) problem in medical safety exposed
Mistakes happen in medical treatments all the time…
Surgeons can leave sponges inside of patients or nick blood vessels during surgery.
Doctors might prescribe treatments that have bad interactions with each other.
Nurses can miss signs of infections starting.
These things aren’t all that unusual.
But an issue that people don’t think a lot about, which can have serious impact on health outcomes, is diagnostic error.
What are diagnostic errors?
Diagnostic errors are just as scary as they sound – a diagnosis that is wrong, delayed, or missed.
“Diagnostic error can be defined as a diagnosis that is missed, wrong, or delayed, as detected by some subsequent definitive test or finding. The ensuing harm results from the delay or failure to treat a condition present when the working diagnosis was wrong or unknown, or from treatment provided for a condition not actually present.”
When you don’t have the correct diagnosis, it’s hard to effectively treat what is wrong with you.
And if you have a wrong diagnosis, the results can be catastrophic.
How often do diagnostic errors occur?
When I found out how many diagnostic errors occur every year, I was surprised and alarmed.
About 1 out of 20 cases contains a diagnostic error. That’s a high failure rate!
“Combining estimates from the three studies yielded a rate of outpatient diagnostic errors of 5.08%, or approximately 12 million US adults every year. Based upon previous work, we estimate that about half of these errors could potentially be harmful.”
With 12 million adults in the US being affected by diagnostic error each year, every patient should be aware that this CAN be a problem for them.
“Our population-based estimate suggests that diagnostic errors affect at least 1 in 20 US adults. This foundational evidence should encourage policymakers, healthcare organizations, and researchers to start measuring and reducing diagnostic errors.”
Of course, doctors are only human. So they do make mistakes.
But in nearly any other industry we wouldn’t accept a 1 out of 20 failure rate.
So, why do we put up with it in medicine when people’s lives are on the line – like in the cases that create malpractice claims?
Serious misdiagnosis accounts for nearly 30% of malpractice claims.
This number is particularly alarming.
When I think of malpractice claims, I usually think of something going wrong.
But nearly one in three malpractice claims are because of something being missed or a misdiagnosis.
“We sought to identify diseases accounting for the majority of serious misdiagnosis-related harms (morbidity/mortality). Diagnostic error cases were identified from Controlled Risk Insurance Company (CRICO)’s Comparative Benchmarking System (CBS) database (2006-2015), representing 28.7% of all US malpractice claims.”
To me, that means that diagnostic errors are a serious problem that needs to be addressed and that you need to be made aware of!
What diseases are most likely to be misdiagnosed?
As with any kind of issue, there are health conditions where a wrong diagnosis is more common. These include stroke, sepsis, and lung cancer.
“In aggregate, the top five from each category (15 diseases) accounted for 47.1% of high-severity cases. The most frequent disease in each category, respectively, was stroke, sepsis, and lung cancer. Causes were disproportionately clinical judgment factors (85.7%) across categories…”
If you have symptoms of any of these conditions, make sure that you are advocating for yourself to get the correct diagnosis.
What can you do about diagnostic errors?
It’s important to remember that, while doctors are highly trained, they aren’t perfect.
If you receive a diagnosis and you don’t think it’s right – or if you aren’t responding to treatment – it’s up to you to speak up.
You have to let your doctor know that you think there may be something more or different going on.
It’s also important to remember that diagnostic error is common and it can happen to almost anyone at any time.
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