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In the United States, diagnostic error consistently ranks among the leading motivators of medical malpractice claims. Twice as many diagnostic error lawsuits are settled as those involving medication errors and close to 10 percent of autopsies uncover a significant mistake in diagnosis.
Still, you don’t hear a lot about diagnostic errors – at least not compared to other, more tangible subjects like medication errors, hospital negligence and birth injury.`
This is the problem, according to Dr. Robert Wachter, the associate chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. In a recent article for the publication Health Affairs, Dr. Wachter discussed the gap between prevalence and recognition of diagnostic errors, why they’re not as tangible and why they’re often ignored.
It is the very fact that diagnostic errors are less predictable, less systems-based that they receive less attention, says Wachter. These errors are usually more related to person-by-person shortcomings and less the product of, say, broken lines of communication.
In healthcare, hospitals and even healthcare advocates often focus on the “big fixes,” one-size-fits-all solutions that can solve a lot of very real problems in one fell swoop. While the issues addressed by these broad measures are often legitimate problems in need of solutions, they aren’t the only issues on the table.
Diagnostic errors, easily-addressed or not, are a major concern in the areas of patient safety, medical malpractice lawsuits and nationwide healthcare costs.
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