Study: You Will Suffer 'One Meaningful Diagnostic Error'

Data on diagnostic errors is scarce, but they're a serious problem: report
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 23, 2015 4:26 PM CDT
Study: You Will Suffer 'One Meaningful Diagnostic Error'
Almost everyone will receive a misdiagnosis or late diagnosis in their lifetime, a new report says.   (AP Photo/Jeff Barnard, File)

Virtually all Americans will at some point receive a wrong diagnosis or a delayed one, a new report from the National Academy of Medicine finds. "Everyone will experience one meaningful diagnostic error in their lifetime," the chairman of the committee that wrote the report tells NBC News. The stats are troubling: At least 5% of US adults in outpatient care each year are victims of a diagnostic error, with 6% to 17% of "adverse events" in hospitals and 10% of patient deaths occurring due to these mistakes, per medical and postmortem records. The solution, according to the report, includes embracing more communication with pathologists and radiologists, better harnessing of technology, and bringing back autopsies. There should also be more transparency and encouragement of disclosure, the report notes, so doctors won't be hesitant to reveal errors because they're afraid of malpractice suits, per CBS News.

No one knows this better than Susan Sheridan, a patient-involvement advocate from Idaho whose 20-year-old son is permanently disabled because of a jaundice misdiagnosis when he was an infant, and whose husband died of cancer because of a diagnosis received too late. "Our healthcare system … I have no clue who is in charge," she tells NBC. "I assumed somebody was in charge of keeping us safe." The president of the National Academy of Medicine says in a release that this report "is a serious wake-up call" and that "diagnostic errors are a significant contributor to patient harm that has received far too little attention until now." (A mistaken brain surgery, unnecessary chemo, and erroneous mastectomies all had devastating consequences.)

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