Study: Basic errors trigger missed diagnoses

MDs hate practice guidelines with good reason--after all, no professional wants to substitute a by-the-numbers approach for following their well-honed instincts. Still, studies like the following suggest that sticking to a formula does have its benefits. Research just published by the Annals of Internal Medicine has found that where patients were harmed by incorrect or late diagnoses, the problem usually occurred because the MD made a mistake at one of a few key steps in the standard diagnostic process. In the study, researchers examined 307 closed malpractice claims, finding that 181 involved claims of harm due to wrong or delayed diagnoses. They concluded that in 60 percent of cases, the diagnostic problem was due to MD errors, including failure to order appropriate diagnostic tests, failure to create a proper follow-up plan, failure to obtain an adequate history, or an incorrect interpretation of tests.

Study author Dr. Tejal K. Gandhi, director of patient safety at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA, told the AP that more use of electronic records, better algorithms for making evaluations and the use of nurse practitioners for follow-ups could help MDs avoid routine problems like these.

Find out more about the study:
- read this AP article
- review the Annals of Internal Medicine summary