THURSDAY, Sept. 20, 2018 -- Every nine minutes, a patient in a U.S. hospital dies because a diagnosis was wrong or delayed -- resulting in 80,000 deaths a year.
That sobering estimate comes from the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, or SIDM.
To help remedy this situation, more than 40 health care and patient advocacy groups have joined forces to improve the quality of diagnoses, especially those that can result in patient harm. The effort is called ACT for Better Diagnosis.
"Providing an accurate medical diagnosis is complex and involves uncertainty, but it's obviously essential to effective and timely treatment," Paul Epner, chief executive officer and co-founder of SIDM, said in a statement.
"Nearly everyone will receive an inaccurate diagnosis at some point in their life, and for some, the consequences will be grave. Major improvement is needed to systematically identify how to improve diagnostic quality and reduce harm to patients," he said.
In addition to the deaths of hospital patients, diagnostic errors affect 12 million outpatients and is the most common cause of medical errors that patients report, according to SIDM.
The society says obstacles to accurate and timely diagnoses include:
- Incomplete communication when patients are transferred between facilities, doctors or departments.
- Lack of standardized measures for hospitals, health systems or doctors to understand how well they are doing in the diagnostic process, to guide improvement or report errors.
- Patients and doctors both report feeling rushed by limited appointment times, which is a risk in getting a complete medical history essential to making a working diagnosis.
- The diagnostic process is complicated, and limited information is available to patients about the questions to ask or whom to notify when changes in their condition occur or what symptoms are serious.
"The diagnostic process can be complex, as well as emotional and fearful, for women heart patients," registered nurse Evan McCabe, WomenHeart champion and chair of the board of directors, said in the media statement.
"Having the right information to help mitigate the fear of the unknown is crucial. It's important that health care providers listen to patients and have the research and other tools they need to provide answers," she said.
Dr. Ana Maria Lopez, president of the American College of Physicians added, "The diagnosis process -- thinking through a patient's clinical presentation -- is a defining task for our profession, and for internal medicine specialists and subspecialists in particular. Critically assessing diagnostic decision-making reveals knowledge gaps, communication pitfalls, and risk for errors."
Some of the groups that have joined the ACT for Better Diagnosis include the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the American Heart Association. Also participating are these federal agencies: the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Veterans Health Administration.
For examples of difficult diagnoses, visit the Association of American Medical Colleges.
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