Mistaken Diagnoses Are Much More Common Than You’d Think

WASHINGTON (AP) — Most people will experience at least one wrong or delayed diagnosis at some point in their lives, a blind spot in modern medicine that can have devastating consequences, says a new report that calls for urgent changes across health care.

Getting the right diagnosis, at the right time, is crucial, but Tuesday’s Institute of Medicine report found diagnostic errors get too little attention.

The biggest needed change: “Patients are central to a solution,” said Dr. John Ball of the American College of Physicians, who chaired the IOM committee.

That means better teamwork between health providers – doctors, nurses, lab workers – and making the patient be part of the team, too. Providers must take patients’ complaints more seriously, get them quick copies of test results and other records, and encourage them to ask, “Could it be something else?”

Another culture shift: When the patient’s third doctor finally gets the right diagnosis, it should become the norm, not an embarrassment, for that physician to call the others and say, “It turned out this patient had X and not Y,” added committee member Dr. Christine Cassel, president of the National Quality Forum. “That’s the only way we can really learn.”

Possibly the most well-known diagnostic error in recent memory occurred last year when a Liberian man sick with Ebola initially was misdiagnosed in a Dallas emergency room as having sinusitis. Thomas Eric Duncan returned two days later, sicker, and eventually died.

Diagnosis problems seldom make such dramatic headlines. Consider the woman who told the IOM of going to the emergency room with heart attack symptoms only to be misdiagnosed with acid reflux and was fussed at for questioning the doctor. She’d suffered serious heart damage by the time she returned. Other times, patients may not even realize they experienced an error, such as the cancer —> Read More