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Have you been the victim of a diagnostic error?

Undoubtedly, for a patient, obtaining a correct and timely diagnosis is critical. Every test, prescription drug, surgery, hospital stay and follow-up visit is directly linked to a doctor providing a patient with a diagnosis and recommended treatment options. Yet, despite the importance of a correct diagnosis, a new report by the Institute of Medicine reveals that the majority of U.S. patients will, at some point during their lifetime, be the victim of a diagnostic error.

While researchers have enough evidence to know that diagnostic errors are common, because these types of medical mistakes are not tracked, there is no real way to know just how common they are.

For a doctor, factors that may cause or contribute to diagnostic errors include heavy patient-loads, poor communication, lab test errors, misinterpreted X-rays or test results and a physician's frame of mind at the time of a patient's visit. Frequently, a patient may not even be aware that he or she is the victim of a delayed or missed diagnosis as some medical conditions or problems may go undetected and undiagnosed for years. What's more, a doctor who misdiagnosed or failed to detect what may later become a major health problem is often completely unaware of his or her mistakes.

In an effort to reduce the number of patients who are adversely impacted by diagnostic errors, the report's authors call for widespread changes within the U.S. healthcare system. For example, when a mistake, encouraging open dialog between doctors and other healthcare professionals can go a long way towards helping doctors prevent making similar future mistakes.

For individuals and families impacted by diagnostic and other medical errors, the stakes and costs can be extremely high. In fact, not only are diagnostic errors the most frequent type of medical malpractice claims, but these types of errors are also nearly "twice as likely as other claims to have resulted in a patient—death."

Source: The Seattle Times, "Study: Diagnosis wrong too often, urgent improvement needed," Lauran Neergaard, Sept. 22, 2015

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