Diagnostic errors are defined as any mistake or failure in the diagnostic process leading to missed, wrong, or delayed diagnoses. Diagnostic errors make up the largest number of malpractice claims in the U.S. today. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Baltimore, reviewed all U.S. paid malpractice claims from the past 25 years, and found that diagnostic errors accounted for the largest fraction of claims, the most severe patient harm, and the highest amount of payouts. One report predicts most people will experience at least one wrong or delayed diagnoses over their lifetime. One conservative estimate stated 1 in 20 adults who seek outpatient care every year will experience an error in their diagnoses. Unfortunately, up until recently, diagnostic errors had been a mostly unrecognized area of patient safety.
Most of these errors are not even realized. Often, diagnostic errors result from poor coordination of care. Doctors not paying attention when writing a prescription, or nurses not being careful with medication are two often-seen examples. However, some doctors may realize the misdiagnoses, but choose not to confront the patient as a way to save face if the problem isn’t serious. Getting the right diagnosis is critical, because it is the starting point for every other health care decision.
Patients can help tremendously in making sure they get the right diagnosis, experts say. Make sure to always be clear, complete and concise when describing your illness. Describe when your symptoms began and what made them better or worse. Remember past treatments. Letting your doctor know what medicines helped and what side effects they had can save you and your doctor time and frustration. Ask your clinician questions such as ‘What could be causing my problem?’, and be sure to always get a second opinion as well.