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Report warns about prevalence of diagnostic mistakes

The highly-respected Institute of Medicine has provided the medical community with groundbreaking reports in the past. More than a decade and a half ago, in 1999, IOM concluded up to 98,000 people nationwide were victims of hospital errors each year. The organization's latest report is narrowly focused on diagnostic errors.

Diagnostic mistakes, including failures to diagnose a condition in a timely manner, are the primary cause of medical malpractice claims. They also appear to be the most deadly. Patient deaths are involved in nearly twice as many diagnostic complaints in North Carolina and other states as other types of malpractice claims.

The new IOM report claims most patients will be misdiagnosed or experience a delayed diagnosis at least once in a lifetime. An estimated 5 percent of outpatient adults are diagnosed improperly each year. Researchers believe diagnostic errors occur for several reasons, not the least of which is a failure of some physicians to collaborate when a patient seeks a second or third medical opinion.

The Institute of Medicine suggests patients become more involved in the diagnostic process by asking pointed questions and inspecting their own health records. Another problem is diagnostic errors generally aren't included in patient records. This lack of evidence makes it hard to know how often these problems really occur.

Patients know how they feel but depend on a doctor to translate what symptoms mean. Patients may be contributing to diagnostic errors by not questioning the care they receive from doctors, hospital technicians and other medical professionals.

While stronger patient-doctor relationships may help prevent mistakes, patients aren't the ones accountable for diagnostic errors. You can't point the finger at a patient for an overcrowded doctor's schedule, faulty test results or mistakes on electronic medical records. Patients and families suffer the consequences for medical negligence and with an attorney's help, may be able to recover compensation for their injuries.

Source: Associated Press, "Study: Diagnosis wrong too often, urgent improvement needed," Lauran Neergaard, Sep. 22, 2015

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