Most people will be misdiagnosed at least once throughout their lifetime, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has revealed on September 22.
According to the findings, published in the “Improving Diagnosis in Health Care” report, urgent improvements are needed in the health care system. Nowadays, everyone risks receiving a “meaningful” inaccurate or belated diagnosis, which might have disastrous consequences.
An error of this type is defined as “failure to (a) establish an accurate and timely explanation of the patient’s health problem(s), or (b) communicate that explanation to the patient”.
Misdiagnosis is usually caused by rush in identifying a cause for the patient’s symptoms, insufficient communication with doctors and nurses, and improper interpretation of lab tests or X-rays.
Overall, every year around 5% of the adult patients who receive ambulatory care are misdiagnosed, and 10% of all patient deaths are linked to such errors. Inaccurate medical verdicts are the most widespread cause of malpractice lawsuits, and other claims are half as likely to have resulted in death by negligence.
The importance of detecting with accuracy every health issue, based on its symptomatology, has been evident recently, when an Ebola patient was misdiagnosed.
Thomas Eric Duncan ,a Liberian man who had contracted the virus, was initially told he had sinusitis and abdominal pain when he arrived at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital emergency room.
He was prescribed antibiotics and was sent home, but his state worsened and eventually he was hospitalized again. In the intensive care unit, he was finally diagnosed with Ebola, but it was already too late and the patient eventually succumbed to the disease.
Other similar cases have been reported, such as cancer patients who are diagnosed when their tumors have already metastasized, because doctors didn’t conduct enough tests to identify the illness in its early stages.
Another patient filed a complaint at IOM claiming she was told by medical staff that she had acid reflux, when in fact she had suffered a heart attack, which resulted in serious damage.
Back in 1999, the Institute of Medicine brought to light that between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths occur in hospitals, due to preventable medical errors. As a result of this report, emphasis has been placed on improving primary care and patient safety, but little attention was given to the importance of setting the right diagnosis.
Nowadays, IOM is calling for health organizations to go through their records and identify such errors, so that they can be prevented in the future. Government officials are also urged to support more research in this field, especially by funding autopsy studies to identify the prevalence of misdiagnosis.
Moreover, health practitioners should collaborate with patients, by actively involving them in the medical examination process and taking their ailments more seriously. They could also use “decision support” tools which list a variety of potential diagnoses, based on a set of symptoms.
In addition, doctors should share their findings, upon pinpointing the correct illness or disorder, after others have failed. By turning such collaboration into a norm and increasing transparency and disclosure, health officials could learn from one another and improve their diagnosis skills.
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