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Studies identify common diagnostic errors and ways to avoid them

A patient in Connecticut cannot get treatment for a condition that has not been diagnosed by a health care provider, but identifying the medical condition may be more difficult than people think. According to AMN Healthcare, research indicates that about 5 percent of the time, doctors miss the correct diagnosis, even though the evidence is available to them.

Sometimes, there is no harm done, but roughly half of those whose conditions go undetected, one in 40 patients, are in danger of experiencing serious health repercussions. How do such serious errors happen? Researchers discovered that much of the problem occurs during or as a result of the patient's visit with the health care provider. The following may lead to a missed diagnosis:

  • The patient does not provide an accurate or complete medical history.
  • The provider does not order the correct tests.
  • The provider misinterprets the results of tests.
  • The provider does not refer the patient to the specialist needed.
  • The patient does not show up for the appointments.

In a busy setting with many patients and a short time to see each one, providers have little opportunity to focus on vague symptoms, and often focus their attention on addressing the most obvious issue first. 

Becker's Hospital Review reports that researchers have developed strategies for lowering the risk of missed diagnoses, including the following:

  • Providers should ensure that patient visits are long enough to facilitate an effective discussion.
  • Providers, lab personnel and radiologists should work closely together when interpreting test results.
  • The responsibility for follow-up actions on abnormal test results should be clear.
  • All providers involved in treating a patient should communicate regarding the diagnosis.
  • Providers should encourage patients to participate in the process and be alert to inconsistencies.

These suggestions and others have resulted from extensive review of current research and experience. Medical professionals believe that with more research, further vulnerabilities and solutions can be identified to improve outcomes further.

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