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Diagnostic errors can be serious

When Pittsburgh residents head to the doctor they expect that the doctor will get the diagnosis right. But, unfortunately, mistakes in a diagnosis happen every day across the United States and the chances are good that almost everyone will experience a diagnosis error. The failure to diagnose can lead to a worsened medical condition or even death.

Around 12 million adults in an outpatient setting are the victim of a diagnostic error each year. Six to 17 percent of hospital patients also suffer from a diagnostic error. Many times medical mistakes focus on mistakes that are easy to spot -- like surgery on the wrong site or leaving medical equipment inside of someone. There are several reasons why a diagnostic error can occur. These include poor communication among clinicians, patients and their families, the health care system not properly set up for diagnosing patients, limited feedback to doctors about how they're doing diagnosing patients and a medical culture that discourages reporting errors.

In order to reduce diagnostic errors, the Institute of Medicine has several recommendations. These include more teamwork, more professional education in the diagnostic process, using health information technologies that support a diagnostic process, identify errors and learn from them and dedicate funding to studying why diagnostic errors occur, among others. It is important for everyone to know how often a diagnostic error occurs and why they keep happening. A diagnostic error can be life-threatening and because of the error a patient may not receive the proper treatment.

If patients believe they are the victim of a medical error, they may want to speak with a legal professional skilled in medical malpracticee. An attorney can review medical records, consult with medical experts and try and determine what happened. Compensation may be available for medical expenses, pain and suffering and other damages.

Source: huffingtonpost.com, "Diagnostic errors: A 'moral, professional and public health imperative", Jay Bhatt, Feb. 19, 2016

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