Diagnostic error is failing to establish an accurate and timely explanation of the patient’s health problems or communicate that explanation to the patient.
There are many potential causes of diagnostic errors, but they often stem from problems with the diagnosis process itself. For instance, doctors may fail to gather all relevant information about a patient’s symptoms or may not consider all possible diagnoses. In other cases, miscommunication between different healthcare team members can lead to diagnostic errors.
Diagnostic errors before COVID was believed to be the third leading cause of death in the United States. A study showed that among Medicare patients, diagnostic errors resulted in 158,000 deaths annually.
COVID has changed the way we view diagnostic errors. Given the high mortality rate associated with COVID, even a small number of diagnostic errors can greatly impact public health. A recent study estimated that for every 10,000 patients with COVID, there may be as many as 100 avoidable deaths due to diagnostic errors.
There are several steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of diagnostic errors. These include improving communication between healthcare providers, using technology to aid in diagnosis, and increasing patient involvement in their own care.
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