Multiple approaches to preventing diagnostic errors

There's No Substitute for Experience

When it comes to a medical diagnosis, most Tennessee residents simply put blind faith in their doctors. Truly believing these trained professionals know what they are doing, many fail to search out second opinions or even question what their doctors have to say. However, given the fact thousands of people are injured or killed every year due to medical errors, more has to be done when it comes to preventing diagnostic errors.

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, diagnostic errors are one of the most common types of medical mistakes. From 1986 to 2010, these types of errors were also on the top of the list when it came to reasons for filing medical malpractice lawsuits in the U.S.

In total, the university estimates, there are as many as 160,000 patients per year in the U.S. who are adversely affected by diagnostic errors.

With diagnostic errors, the thing to remember is these types of mistakes are preventable. However, there does not seem to be one best way to prevent these errors. Rather, a recent article in The Wall Street Journal focused on a number of different initiatives that can be taken – or are already being taken at certain health care facilities – to reduce errors.

For example, utilizing computers to help identify missed diagnostic signals or to help doctors with decision support is one way to try and prevent errors.

One large health care system has taken to using “Safety Net,” which is a program that goes through its patient database to find lab results and other data that may be essential to proper diagnosing, but that was at risk of being missed.

Yet, according to the same Wall Street Journal article, some facilities are using electronic decision-support programs for doctors. In one program, doctors are able to rank possible diagnoses. In one study of these types of programs, in looking at 50 of the more challenging medical cases, the program provided the correct diagnosis 96 percent of the time after key features were entered.

There is also a push for doctors to not only really listen to what patients are saying, but to avoid latching on to just one diagnosis. Rather, doctors are being encouraged to keep their minds open to other possibilities, which could in fact be the real issue.

The hope is that as more attention is given to diagnostic errors, more continues to be done to try and prevent these types of errors.

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