Most Americans will suffer from a diagnostic error at some point

A new report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies of Sciences says that at some point in their lives, the majority of Americans will be victims of a diagnostic error, according to the Washington Post. The report, one of the few studies pertaining to misdiagnoses in the health care industry, sheds light on a growing and often overlooked problem. Despite being one of the leading causes of adverse hospital events and patient deaths, research into diagnostic errors has been relatively slim until recently.

Millions misdiagnosed

The study's authors note how difficult it is to collect reliable data about diagnostic errors, with many such errors often only coming to light during autopsies or as the result of medical malpractice lawsuits. That lack of information may be why this report is one of the few that has actually attempted to analyze the overall problem of misdiagnoses in the healthcare industry. Based on the information available, the report says that about 12 million outpatients are victims of a diagnostic error each year, or about five percent of all such patients.

As Forbes points out, while there may not be much data surrounding diagnostic errors, that lack of information does not mean that the problem is a small one. Diagnostic errors, for example, have been linked to 17 percent of all adverse hospital events along with 10 percent of all patient deaths.

A growing problem?

The report largely blames the prevailing culture at many healthcare facilities for the problem. The diagnostic process, the report notes, is still largely based on the opinion and expertise of a single physician. Patients can feel too intimidated to ask questions and nurses and other workers may also feel discouraged to criticize a physician's conclusions.

Perhaps just as worrying is that the report predicts that diagnostic errors are likely to grow due to an increased reliance on complex technology. Most healthcare providers are switching over to an electronic records system which the report criticizes for focusing largely on billing and legal needs rather than patient care. Healthcare workers have also complained that the new technology is difficult to use. Finally, the authors note that since many doctors who make a misdiagnosis are never informed about their mistake even when it is uncovered, they often lack the incentive and knowledge needed to improve in the future.

Medical malpractice

Diagnostic errors are at the center of many medical malpractice cases. Anyone who may have been the victim of a healthcare professional's poor judgment should contact a medical malpractice attorney today. Pursuing a medical malpractice case may not only help ensure that an injured patient receives the compensation he or she may need, but can also help encourage greater standards in hospitals so that similar mistakes are not repeated in the future.