Diagnostic Errors: What patients can do to reduce the risk

I just read an interesting article from Inside Medical Liability, a publication for the medical profession.  The article, “Look Again – What do you really see? Useful Tips for Avoiding Misdiagnosis” provides some scary information for patients like this:

1.  40,000 to 80,000 patients die each year due to a physician’s incorrect diagnosis of his/her patient’s condition.

2.  The error rate for ambulatory clinics suggests that one in every 1,000 patients are harmed by diagnostic errors.

3.  In an average sized hospital, a diagnostic error will harm one patient every day in ambulatory care and be responsible for 5 to 10 patient deaths per year.

My experience tells me these numbers do not accurately reflect the seriousness of the problem.  Let’s face it, no one (including doctors) likes to reprort their failings.

I won’t bore you with the ways doctors and hospitals can reduce the risk of a harmful misdiagnosis but I will share with you the ways the article tells us how patients can reduce the risk:

1.  Be a good historian.  Keep notes about your symptoms, when they started and how they responded to prior treatment.

2.  Take advantage of cancer screenings.

3.  Make sure you know your test results.  Ask the doctor or laboratory to directly send you the results and don’t assume “no news is good news.”

4.  Prepare a list of questions for your doctor and get answers to your questions.

5.  Don’t assume any healthcare system will adequately coordinate your care – make sure the specialist to whom you are referred has the records he/she needs before your visit.

6.  Get a second opinion.  Get a second opinion.  Get a second opinion.

Dan Frith
Dan Frith

Dan Frith has over 25 years of experience representing individuals and families in cases of medical malpractice throughout Virginia. He has been named "Best Medical Malpractice Attorney" by Roanoker Magazine and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To speak with Dan, contact him by email at dfrith@frithlawfirm.com.