study explores whether patient safety efforts are resulting in actual improvement

In our previous post, we discussed the shocking revelation made in a recent study that primary care physicians — the medical professionals in whom we place perhaps the greatest level of trust — are prone to misdiagnoses. In fact, the study determined that this was perhaps the most common of all medical mistakes.

While studies documenting the incidence of diagnostic errors, surgical errors and other medical mistakes are certainly helpful, they are often limited in certain respects. Specifically, many fail to shed any meaningful light on whether patient safety efforts were implemented by medical facilities to combat these mistakes and, if so, whether they were actually effective.

Interestingly, a group of researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine recognized this problem and decided to conduct a study in which they reviewed approximately 109 other studies that had focused primarily on the issue of diagnostic errors. Here, the Stanford researchers sought to determine whether the patient safety efforts discussed in the 109 studies actually helped improve diagnostic error rates further down the line.

According to the researchers, this new review of previously gathered data revealed that diagnostic accuracy did indeed improve when certain patient safety interventions were introduced. To illustrate, they found that a study performed back in 1992 determined that the introduction of a standardized data form lowered the misdiagnoses and incorrect hospitalizations for appendicitis by nine percent.

Based on the results of the study, the researchers naturally recommended that medical facilities across the U.S. consider introducing more patient safety interventions designed in order to combat diagnostic errors.

Some of the ideas advanced include text message alerts of changes in a patient’s condition and a computer program designed to populate a list of potential diagnoses based on the information entered.

While this study is certainly interesting and the ideas advanced are intriguing, it fails to account for the fact that in the hectic atmosphere of a medical office or hospital, many physicians may simply overlook or ignore electronic prompts. True change regarding diagnostic errors will only be realized when physicians — regardless of their specialty — take the time to complete a comprehensive patient history, conduct a full medical exam and/or order the necessary tests.

Source: Reuters, “Patient safety efforts may prevent diagnostic errors,” Genevra Pittman, March 5, 2013

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