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Can hospitals reduce diagnostic medical errors?

The medical industry has begun to pay more attention to reducing hospital acquired infection rates. The focus on this form of medical malpractice may be coming at the expense of other common errors that harm patients. Misdiagnosis is a common problem that can have serious, even fatal consequences. A recent study analyzed the process of diagnosing patients and found where errors were likely to be introduced each step of the way. The study could pave the way for improvements in patient safety.

How patients are diagnosed

Researchers pinned down five elements or steps in diagnosis. These steps are:

  • The doctor-patient interaction
  • Running and interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Following up with patients and tracking diagnostic information over time
  • Communicating with medical specialists and coordinating care
  • Helping patients and their families play a role in the diagnostic process

At each step, the study authors pinpointed improvements that could reduce the instances of misdiagnosis. 

Time and effort

Many of the recommendations come down to ensuring that physicians put forth the time and effort necessary to reach a proper diagnosis. Doctors and patients report that medical appointments can feel rushed. Hospitals may put pressure on physicians to see a certain number of patients per day. The greater the number of patients, the less time allotted to each encounter. The time to follow up with patients, lab professionals and subspecialists to complete the diagnostic process is necessary to avoid misdiagnosis.

Holding medical professionals accountable

Medical mistakes come with serious consequences for patients. A misdiagnosis of cancer or coronary artery disease can waste valuable time in which the condition could be treated or cured. The failure to diagnose a stroke or infection could leave the patient with permanent health problems. When doctors make mistakes, it is important to hold them accountable. When hospitals enact dangerous policies that harm patient safety, those policies need to be examined. Misdiagnosis is a form of medical error. When it happens, the responsible parties should be held accountable. 

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