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More needs to be done to prevent diagnostic errors

A 2012 study found that 40,500 people die every year in the U.S. due to diagnostic errors in intensive care units. This study, among others focusing on misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis, point to a bigger issue in the medical field, one that is putting New York City patients in danger.

Frequently we tend to hear about surgical errors and prescription drug mix-ups. And while both of these types of medical mistakes can certainly be fatal to patients, correcting these errors from happening in the first place is a lot easier to at least try and control.

However, unlike instituting breaks among surgical team members and color-coding labels, getting to the heart of diagnostic errors is a lot more complex and multifaceted.

Diagnostic errors happen for a number of reasons, including doctors being overworked and relying too heavily on high-tech tests. But, one of the larger underlying issues is that often times a doctor does not know he or she made a diagnostic error in the first place. Without knowing the error happened, how is this doctor supposed to avoid similar mistakes in the future?

Often times, patients end up getting the correct diagnosis on a second opinion from another doctor or much later on down the road. This means the first doctor, unless the case results in a medical malpractice lawsuit, will most likely never know about the initial misdiagnosis.

Overall, the commonality of diagnostic errors points to the fact that more needs to be done in order to ensure patient safety. For many doctors, this will need a change in attitude from not thinking a diagnostic error is impossible, but recognizing it is something that can happen to them. This awareness could end up leading to more careful analysis when diagnosing.

Source: KQED, "Rarely Mentioned Medical Mistake: Patients Harmed by High Rates of Misdiagnosis," Sandra G. Boodman, May 7, 2013

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