The brightest point in the spotlight on diagnostic errors centers on major and significant errors like cancer misdiagnoses that occur in major hospitals. However, with all this focus on major diagnostic errors in hospitals, we seem to have missed out on the fact that that errors like these occur almost every day in primary health care clinics around the country. While they may not be major errors in the sense that they usually involve common and frequent conditions like bronchitis, but that doesn’t change the fact that patients are put to great suffering and trauma as a result.
According to a new study that was published in JAMA Internal Medicine, primary care physicians are just as likely to make diagnostic errors as physicians in large hospitals. In fact, primary care physician-related errors usually encompass a wide range of common conditions, like urinary tract infections or anemia.
However, there has been very little research into the causes of errors that occur in primary care physician offices across the country. That’s partly because there’s very little attention paid when a primary care physician makes a diagnostic error, leading to hospitalization for patients. In contrast, misdiagnosis in a hospital makes headlines and very often results in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
The researchers analyzed as many as 190 cases of diagnostic errors in a primary care doctor’s office, including 68 missed diagnoses. They found that diagnostic errors were spread across many common conditions, including pneumonia, which accounted for approximately 6.7% of the wrong diagnoses. Other common cases of wrong diagnoses included congestive heart failure, kidney failure, kidney infections, urinary tract infections and cancer.
The causes of missed diagnoses were very similar to the causes of such errors in large hospitals and health facilities. For instance, more than 40% of the cases of wrong diagnoses involved a combination of more than one factor. About 80% of diagnostic errors were the result of communication breakdowns between the patient and the doctor. In these cases, the doctor may have neglected to order a complete exam of the patient, or may not have taken a proper medical history of the patient, or may have failed to order the right test, or failed to interpret the tests properly. In other cases, diagnostic errors were the result of failure of follow-up care.
Just because these errors occur in a primary care physician’s office does not mean that they do not have serious repercussions. The researchers found that these cases definitely have the potential for “moderate to severe” patient harm.
It’s not surprising to Indiana medical malpractice attorneys that the diagnostic error rate is so high among primary care physicians. Many primary-care doctors are overstressed, overworked, and underpaid, and therefore reducing the number of these errors is likely to be a gargantuan task. To reduce diagnostic error risks, the researchers suggest the use of electronic medical records, and progress towards a system that encourages patients to get all of their medical needs taken care of under a single roof.
The Indiana medical malpractice lawyers at Montross Miller Muller Mendelson Kennedy LLP represent persons injured by the medical negligence of nurses, doctors and other medical personnel across Indiana.