Why do doctors, nurses, and hospitals repeatedly make the same mistakes which injure or kill their patients? We see it all the time in our cases! The same doctor misdiagnosing acute appendicitis as a simple stomach ache. Emergency physicians regularly missing the opportunity to diagnose a myocardial infarct (heart attack) in the emergency department and discharging the patient home – where they subsequently experience a more serious myocardial infarct and die.
The misdiagnosis of a patient’s medical problem is at crisis level in the US. A 1999 Institute of Medicine study indicated that between 45,000 and 98,000 patients die every year due to medical errors, a large portion of which attributable to diagnosis errors. A 2004 multi-institutional project funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported that diagnosis errors represent 32% of all medical errors versus just 8% for medication errors. Finally, a recent Harris Interactive poll commissioned by the National Patient Safety Foundation found that one in six people had experienced a medical error related to misdiagnosis.
Some doctors are doing something about this crisis! Dr. Joseph Britto was working at a London hospital in 1999 when doctors diagnosed chicken pox in a little girl, Isabel. Only after her organs began shutting down did her doctors realize that Isabel was not suffering from chicken pox but from a potentially fatal flesh-eating infection. Isabel’s father was so shaken by this event that he quit his job in the finance industry and founded a company – named after his daughter – to fight medical misdiagnosis. The company, Isabel Healthcare, designs computer software which allows a doctor to type in a patient’s symptoms, and in response, generate a list of possible causes for those symptoms. You can go to the company’s web site and see a video demonstration of this fantastic program!
Let’s get smart and stop losing loved ones to preventable medical misdiagnosis!