Diagnostic errors are a big problem. This means diagnoses that are wrong, or missed entirely, or should have been made much earlier. Today, diagnostic errors are the most common cause for malpractice claims.
Diagnostic errors typically involve cancer, infections, and cardiovascular disease, but every condition is susceptible to mistakes. Every one of us is likely to experience a diagnostic error in our lifetime. Most of these will be inconsequential, but a small fraction can result in harm, and in the US, it has been estimated that there are 40,000 – 80,000 deaths every year due to diagnostic errors.
What can we do? An article published in the journal Diagnosis, amplifies on the number one recommendation from the recent report from the National Academy of Medicine on Improving Diagnosis in Health Care: Create and work in diagnostic teams.
This starts with the patient becoming an active, engaged partner in the diagnostic process. Secondly, the nurses involved in the patient’s care need to be included and valued as a member of the core team. And last but not least, all of the other stakeholders that can improve diagnosis need to be more closely involved in helping support diagnosis and detect diagnostic errors: radiologists, pathologists, physical therapists, medical librarians and many others. The article describes the first steps each of the stakeholders can take to create these new diagnostic teams.