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How can diagnostic errors be prevented?

| Apr 16, 2021 | Medical Malpractice

You put a lot of trust and faith in your doctor. You expect them to provide quality care in every instance, from diagnosing medical conditions to performing procedures. While many doctors meet and exceed these expectations, mistakes still happen.

According to the American Family Physician, diagnostic errors are quite common. They can also have a drastic effect on patient health and wellness, which is why medical staff must take steps to avoid them.

Why diagnostic errors usually occur

Unfortunately, a vast majority of diagnosing errors occur simply due to oversight. A doctor might make assumptions based on information gained during the initial appointment without delving further. They might experience bias towards one outcome that leads them down the wrong path. They might take shortcuts when faced with a busy schedule and many other patients waiting.

How to prevent errors in diagnosing

A stronger doctor-patient relationship is key in providing the correct diagnosis. Additionally, doctors should encourage patients to follow up after the initial exam. Reporting new or worsening symptoms can shed light on the medical issue and alert the doctor to a possible undiscovered health condition.

Doctors are also encouraged to seek second opinions from colleagues if they are unsure of a diagnosis. A third party with medical training can look at the situation without bias, which may result in a more accurate diagnosis.

Medical personnel should consider use of a checklist to ensure they have weighed every possibility. The checklist may include:

  • Did the patient offer a diagnosis first? Did I accept that diagnosis without questioning it?
  • Was I responsible for performing the initial exam and taking down medical history?
  • Was I fatigued or distracted when developing the diagnosis?
  • Was the patient seen for the same symptoms or complaints previously? If so, what was the outcome?

While doctors are highly trained and knowledgeable, they are still human and prone to the same mistakes as everyone else. Unfortunately, when a doctor misdiagnoses or fails to diagnose a patient, a tragic outcome can easily occur.