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Most Americans will be victims of a wrong diagnosis, says report


A recently released report reveals that most Americans get a medical diagnosis that is wrong or late at least once in their lives, with disastrous consequences sometimes, the Washington Post reports.

An independent panel of medical experts, of the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, compiled the report. The study is the institute's third in a series on patient safety.

The report's authors say they do not know the exact number of diagnostic errors that take place, though some experts estimate that it affects at least 12 million adults each year.

"Despite the pervasiveness of diagnostic error and the risk for patient harm, they have been largely unappreciated within the quality safety movement in health care and this cannot and must not continue," said Victor Dzau, institute president, during a news briefing Tuesday.

Diagnostic errors are far more common than medication mistakes or surgery on the wrong patient or body part.  However, much more attention is often paid to patient safety in hospitals, not mistakes in diagnoses.

According to the study, the errors are likely to increase because of the growing complexity of the diagnostic process and the delivery of health care.

Part of the problem, experts say, has been the difficulty of measuring diagnostic mistakes.

"The data on diagnostic errors are sparse, few reliable measures exist and often the error is identified only in retrospect," said John R. Ball, chair of the committee and executive vice president emeritus of the American College of Physicians.

Experts also say that diagnosis is one of the most difficult and complex tasks in health care because it involves patients, clinicians, lab tests and more than 10,000 potential diagnoses.

"It crosses so many different domains in the practice of medicine, which makes it complicated by itself," said Paul Epner, executive vice president of the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, a nonprofit, physician-led organization patient safety group.

The committee found that the most common causes for a diagnostic error are inadequate collaboration among clinicians, patients and their families, limited feedback to clinicians about the accuracy of their diagnoses and lack of transparency in the health-care culture.

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