National Patient Safety Week and Misdiagnosis

Mar 17, 2016
Tagged with: National Patient Safety Week and Misdiagnosis

Protect Your Health And Learn How To Combat Medical Misdiagnosis

The health care profession is far from perfect. Every year, one in 20 patients seeking medical care are misdiagnosed, resulting in more than 40,000 deaths that may have been prevented and as many as 160,000 patients suffering permanent injury, according to Adventist University’s Nursing Program.

To help battle this epidemic, March 13-19 has been declared National Patient Safety Week by the National Patient Safety Foundation. The week includes a number of activities designed to let patients know what they can do to protect their health and avoid a misdiagnosis mishap.

The Problem Defined

Misdiagnoses occur for any of a variety of reasons, with many of them caused by human error. Most commonly, according to studies, the problems will arise from difficulties in ordering diagnostic tests or because patients do not provide a complete and accurate medical history. Because doctors are people, too, a misdiagnosis can be caused by a physician simply misinterpreting test results. New research has even found that the number of nurses on staff is directly correlated with the number of misdiagnoses.

When a patient shows up at the doctor’s office with certain complaints, there is a greater chance that they will be misdiagnosed if they display symptoms such as shortness of breath, a cough, or abdominal pain. These can be indicators of a wide variety of conditions, so the chances for missing the true cause are much higher.

A health care profession that seems designed to make the communication between doctor and patient, and the reporting of errors, more difficult, exacerbates human error. Researchers have found that the system generally is not supportive of the process involved in diagnosing conditions. The system also is geared against transparency, so feedback to doctors and clinicians about diagnostic issues is not easy to come by.

Errors in successfully diagnosing a patient’s condition can lead to a lack of treatment, the wrong treatment, or a delay in treatment. All of these can be extremely damaging to the patient, leading to malpractice lawsuits and overall higher health care costs. For example, false positives in screening for breast cancer result in an added $4 billion in medical care spending each year.

Ways to Combat the Misdiagnosis Problem

Though admitting that there is no magic pill to solve the problem, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has made a list of changes that should be encouraged to at least reduce the instances and severity of misdiagnoses. Many of its solutions involve more input and involvement in the medical process by its consumers, the patients.

Among its recommendations, the IOM suggests increased training in diagnostics in medical schools, monitoring of the success or failure of medical facilities in diagnosing patients, and an increase in the reporting of failures to enable others to learn from them. Patients, it said, should have greater access to health records and testing results to ensure accuracy and generally be more involved in their care.

To do this, patients should be detailed when telling the story of their complaint, such as noting when it started and what makes it feel better or worse. They should review the treatments they have tried and keep a record of tests, medications, and hospital stays. They also should relate to each doctor the results of visits to other medical offices. Using the power of the Internet, they should learn as much as they can about their illness or condition and continue to ask questions.

How do you effectively communicate with your doctor? Do you write a list or take pictures? Let me know in the comments below.

To learn about how the future of medicine aims to eradicate misdiagnosis click here.

Adventist University of Health Sciences

Author: Audrey Willis

  • bobl07

    This is so sad to hear. I think it also speaks how important it is to visit your doctor on a consistent basis to prevent such tragedies.

  • Audrey Willis

    Exactly Bob! It is all about good communication with doctors and nurses alike, even your family! It is important to speak up and let your loved ones know if something is wrong.

  • bobl07

    Thanks Audrey. Sometimes people will go years before getting a check-up or teeth cleaned. These things can also help in detecting health issues.