A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine analyzed 583 physician-reported errors related to missed or delayed diagnoses, mistakes the authors called a “frequent and under-appreciated cause of patient injury.”
Diagnostic Errors ‘Leading Cause’ of Medical Malpractice
Also calling them the “leading cause” of medical malpractice litigation, the authors cited diagnostic error rates of 10% to 15%, as confirmed by decades of data from autopsy reports.
Called the Diagnostic Error Evaluation and Research (DEER) project, the study was funded by AHRQ and involved anonymously surveying hundreds of clinicians about cases in which they personally committed or directly observed what they personally deemed to be diagnostic errors.
Most Common Misdiagnosis
The two most commonly misdiagnosed conditions were pulmonary embolisms and drug reactions (including overdose and poisoning), followed by lung cancer and colorectal cancer. The study identified laboratory and radiology testing as accounting for the largest proportion (44%) of errors, followed by clinician assessment (32%).
“Collecting and reporting diagnostic errors gives continued visibility to a ubiquitous but often less overt type of medical error, the authors wrote. “With the decline of autopsies over the past half century, we are more often literally and figuratively burying our mistakes.”
Of the 583 reported errors, which were categorized by perceived seriousness and frequency, 30% directly involved the reporting physician, 68% were witnessed being committed by others, and 2% had inadequate data.
This type of data collection, the authors concluded, could help researchers identify patterns when designing error prevention strategies and also helping by allowing a blame-free environment for clinicians to recall errors.
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