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Study focuses on malpractice claims due to misdiagnosis

Doctors sometimes make mistakes. They may study and train for years before they can practice medicine, but they are still only human. Mistakes are inevitable. The problem is that doctors' mistakes often involve our health and well-being, even our lives. And many of their most common mistakes can-and should-be avoided.

A recent study looked at one of the most common and most dangerous types of mistakes that doctors make-diagnostic errors. These include coming to the wrong diagnosis and taking too long to get to the right diagnosis. The study noted that diagnostic errors led to 34% of all malpractice claims and that most of these errors were related to just three types of health problems.

Nearly three-quarters of all misdiagnosis claims linked to just three issues

The study, published in Diagnosis, looked at more than 11,500 malpractice claims tied to diagnostic errors. These included more than 7,000 claims for serious illness, injury or death. More than 74% of these serious claims tied back to just three different types of issues:

· Infections

· Cancer

· Vascular events (such as strokes, aneurysms and thromboembolisms)

The authors also noted that doctors' failures to diagnose these problems quickly and correctly led to the "most common, most catastrophic, and most costly of medical errors."

Most diagnostic errors result from poor clinical judgment

The study also looked at the actions behind these errors. It's important to note that the study didn't review every type of mistake doctors might make. It only reviewed malpractice claims and was, therefore, looking at the mistakes found in malpractice suits. Of these, "clinical judgment" was by far the most common culprit. It factored into claims more than twice as often as the next cause.

The three leading causes for diagnostic errors were:

· Clinical judgment

· Communication

· Clinical systems

Communication failures can happen when the people who have information don't provide it to the people who need it-or provide it incorrectly. Clinical systems errors involve the information technology involved in patient care. They can happen when healthcare providers do not input information, input it incorrectly or use it incorrectly, such as could happen if a nurse or doctor pulled up the wrong patient's chart.

How can healthcare providers use this information to get better?

The authors of the study pointed out that just 15 conditions account for roughly half of all serious misdiagnoses. This means that healthcare providers could take huge steps forward simply by focusing on getting those diagnoses right. And that could mean fewer bad diagnoses, fewer delayed diagnoses and more healthy Arizonans.

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