Did you know that in the United States alone, there are roughly 12 million people* each year that are affected by a medical diagnostic error? And of those, it’s estimated that between 40,000 and 80,000 people die annually from the complications of misdiagnoses. ** This complex issue touches nearly every area of health care – from primary care, to hospitals, to large health care organizations and many other types of practices in between.
An initial incorrect diagnosis often derives from systemic problems rooted in our everyday practices and procedures in health care. So how do we tackle this? Unfortunately, it may not be as easy as a 1-2-3 overnight fix, but there are certain measures we can take to lessen medical misdiagnoses and improve diagnostic accuracy and outcomes over time.
One way that medical misdiagnoses can be reduced is by utilizing artificial intelligence, or AI. According to the Wall Street Journal,
“a type of artificial intelligence known as deep learning could help medical experts pinpoint problems faster and more accurately. Deep learning includes using algorithms, or computer programs, that search for, identify and analyze problems without direction from people, though many humans still guide the algorithms today.”
If more hospitals begin to utilize AI, we might start to see an improvement in overall diagnoses especially within medical imaging like CT and MRIs, as well as medical reports and lab results. AI can also assist hospitalists in making swifter and more sound decisions, while considering more holistic possibilities when making a diagnosis.
Another way to help combat misdiagnoses is to utilize a robust EHR (electronic health record) platform that allows hospitalists to coordinate care through comprehensive medical records and notes. By employing an EHR platform correctly, physicians can constantly monitor the status of their patients and stay on the same page across the span of care coordination. The key here is for clinicians to actively stay engaged in their patients’ medical history and deploy care reflective of their status. Issues usually arise when a lack of communication is present and hospitalists don’t do their due diligence in checking a patient’s medical history, medication lists, or most up-to-date clinical notes. EHR platforms not only help circulate insights and important lessons, but they also help to keep all clinicians abreast of any new or pre-existing symptoms that need to be addressed. Using an EHR can assist with identifying issues head on and limiting delays in proper care.
In addition to the above, there are several other ways to limit misdiagnosis within our health care system, including:
- Instituting a liability system within the organization you are a part of that includes checks and balances among providers. This includes creating a culture of identifying and learning from all mistakes and errors, and subsequently establishing a plan of action to ensure the same issue does not arise again.
- Ensuring that continuing medical education is a part of your practice. By keeping up with innovation and new techniques, clinicians can stay informed with precise and appropriate care plans.
- Keeping communication lines open between patients, families, and other medical providers. Collaboration among physicians, pathologists, radiologists, health care professionals and other diagnostic providers is key in reducing misdiagnoses.
- Listening to your patients and focusing on what they are telling you. Sometimes it’s not as easy as “going by the book” with symptom management. If you feel like your patient is describing symptoms that do not correlate to a mainstream diagnosis, be sure to dig deeper. You may need to work together with other medical providers and order additional tests to be sure you are covering all bases. Often, misdiagnoses come from providers making assumptions without going the extra mile to make sure there are no other underlying issues that may be contributing to their medical concerns.
- Follow up on irregular test results and inconsistencies, and don’t stop investigating until a sensible conclusion has been made.
- Create teams within your organization to routinely study diagnostic errors. By studying and submitting ideas and initiatives to improve the diagnostic process, medical teams can learn from past mistakes and move forward in improved performance.
While it can be said that there is no such thing as perfection, especially medically speaking, by implementing a more mindful approach to clinical decision making, we can continue the journey of lessening misdiagnoses and medical mistakes, and hopefully one day, completely leaving these blunders behind for good.
At Advanced Care Hospitalists, we look forward to being a part of the prevention and solution of diagnostic errors and misdiagnoses. Will you join us in continuing to follow and exceed exceptional medical standards that improve the health, livelihood, and outcomes for our patients?
Contact Advanced Care Hospitalists to Learn More
ACH is a Lakeland-based hospitalist group providing comprehensive patient care in community hospitals across Central Florida. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, services, providers or becoming a partner facility, please call us at 863-816-5884 or fill out a contact form online.
* BMJ Quality & Safety International Peer-reviewed Journal
** The Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine (SIDM)