How Certain are Doctors About their Diagnoses?

New evidence suggests that nearly half of doctors today are unsure about their diagnoses.  This is especially alarming given that one of the most common and harmful medical errors is a patient misdiagnosis.

A study (“Reflections on Diagnosis and Diagnostic Errors: a Survey of Internal Medicine Resident and Attending Physicians”) recently published on the website of the Journal of General Internal Medicine deals with medical misdiagnosis, examining doctors’ perception of this frequent medical mistake.

Researchers surveyed nearly 240 doctors in Connecticut in an effort to understand how misdiagnoses are made and how physicians deal with them.

A significant portion of the doctors surveyed reported a lack of confidence in their diagnoses on a regular basis.  Almost half (49 percent) of physicians in inpatient settings, such as hospitals, said they had uncertainty regarding patient diagnoses every day. While 41 percent of doctors in outpatient health facilities expressed a similar uneasiness.

The overwhelming reason as to why a medical misdiagnosis happens is time, or lack of taking it.  Seven out of 10 of the doctors pointed to time limitations as to the leading cause for mistakes made when diagnosing patients.

Types of Medical Misdiagnoses

This is not the first examination of misdiagnosis and patient harm.  In 2015, the National Academy of Medicine released an exhaustive report on this cause and effect relationship, titled “Improving Diagnosis in Health Care.”  In it, the authors identified three types of misdiagnosis:

·         Delayed diagnosis – the proper diagnosis should have been made earlier based on available information

·         Wrong diagnosis – an incorrect diagnosis was given

·         Missed diagnosis – patient symptoms or proper testing was overlooked and no diagnosis was provided

12 Million Patients a Year are Misdiagnosed

Most physicians in the new study felt that misdiagnosis was not a common problem. More than half felt diagnostic errors occurred only once a month or even less.  However, a 2014 study (“The Frequency of Diagnostic Errors in Outpatient Care: Estimations from Three Large Observational Studies Involving US Adult Populations”) found that 12 million people each year in the United States are misdiagnosed.  And half of those cause significant harm to patients.

But the doctors did concur with the 2014 research paper as to what factors contribute to a patient misdiagnosis.  Both pointed to not enough time being devoted to the diagnosis process as a leading cause.

The 2014 report recommended that better teamwork between healthcare providers and between healthcare providers and patients are needed to avoid misdiagnoses.

A patient diagnosis is often the product of several individuals.  Any miscommunication can lead to the wrong or missed diagnosis. And providers should welcome patients and their families as members of the diagnosis team; encouraging them to provide feedback and ask questions during the diagnosis process.

Diagnosing a patient should never be taken for granted.  Any necessary steps missed or shortcuts taken represents a substandard level of medical care that can lead to the patient suffering needlessly.

If you were a victim of a wrong or missed diagnosis, or if you lost a loved one due to this serious medical error, contact a medical malpractice lawyer to review your case.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog June 18, 2019