Despite their potential to cause serious medical harm, instances of missed, incorrect or delayed diagnoses rarely receive the attention garnered by other patient-safety problems such as medication errors. That's according to a recently released report from the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, a Harrisburg-based independent state agency charged with collecting and analyzing safety data.
For the report, the agency reviewed 100 patient-safety events related to diagnostic errors that took place between June 2004 and November 2009.
"Misdiagnoses represent a substantial unmeasured source of preventable mortality, morbidity and costs," the authors wrote in the report. "However, it is not possible to focus on misdiagnosis-related harm without first understanding the broader issue of diagnostic error."
The likelihood of diagnostic errors occurring depends on several variables, including physicians' experience levels, communication among clinicians and organizational culture—whether the organization fosters or hinders openness, the authors said.
The report also pushed for improved data collection and adverse-event analysis and the use of tools such as checklists as ways to boost detection rates and aid prevention.
"Implementing interventions that establish strong and reliable feedback loops between and among physicians regarding diagnostic accuracy is a key step in the error-reduction process," they said in the report.