Diagnostic errors can damage a patient’s health and cost money, or even prove fatal. The basis of every doctor-patient relationship is trust. Medical misdiagnosis can change this. Losing their patients’ trust is the worst thing that can happen to a physician.
The National Center for Policy Analysis cites Kaiser Health News statistics to show the extent and seriousness of misdiagnosis and its impact in the US:
- An estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of cases are misdiagnosed
- Up to 28 percent of 583 diagnostic mistakes were life threatening or had caused death or permanent disability
- The number of deaths from diagnostic errors in U.S. intensive care units is 40,500 – the same as breast cancer deaths each year
Medical mistakes are also leading to an alarming increase in malpractice claims. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, diagnosis-related payments amounted to $38.8 billion during the period 1986-2010. The study also estimated that as many as 160,000 patients suffer permanent injury or death every year due to misdiagnosis.
Diagnostic Errors are Preventable
It is comforting to note that diagnostic errors are preventable, more so when compared to other types of medical mistakes. Healthcare providers are harnessing new technology to reduce the risk of medical misdiagnosis. Here are some of these innovative strategies:
- Using computers to identify potential bad calls or to remind physicians to follow up on red-flag test results
- Using advanced devices and techniques to help doctors recognize medical conditions accurately
- Providing doctors with online services to deal with things they are confused about or not sure how to deal with
- Training physicians to keep an open mind when dealing with evidence, such as test results, as well as peer opinion
More efforts to prevent misdiagnosis are on at the national level by the Institute of Medicine and the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, which is even developing a curriculum to help medical-school trainees improve diagnostic capabilities. Healthcare law is also helping – with several providers including specialists required to manage care, it reduces the chances of important information being missed.
Data Mining to the Rescue
One of the efficient methods to avoid diagnostic errors is to analyze and extract useful information from patient health records. In fact, in large health-care systems, electronic health records (EHRs) are being tapped to detect missed signals. Data mining can help in the prevention of hospital errors, in the early detection and prevention of diseases, and in identifying fraudulent insurance claims.
One of the areas where statistical and data mining tools have proved successful is in the accurate diagnosis of heart disease, the leading cause of death all over the world. Data mining can also help spot adverse drug reactions (ADR) and unknown drug interactions.
A new study reports that a computer program to tap EHR data could accurately detect known drug-event pairs and identify new ones. Mining Internet data helped researchers find hitherto unreported interactions between two drugs, antidepressant Paxil and the cholesterol-lowering drug Pravachol.
Preventing misdiagnosis is a major challenge that hospitals and physician practices face. One of the best ways for them to address this is to incorporate data mining software in their healthcare systems or opt for professional data mining services to analyze EHRs for missed signals which would lead to diagnostic errors.