Recent data suggests that mistakes relating to diagnosing medical conditions cause approximately 80,000 hospital fatalities annually and create losses that total billions of dollars. The Sheridan family has had the misfortune of having two family members that have suffered significantly from failures in diagnosis by physicians. Sue and Pat Sheridan’s baby boy named Cal was showing signs of jaundice. Their doctors contended that he was fine—they were wrong. Sue later brought Cal back because he was still showing these signs. A blood test was taken that revealed the baby had excess bilirubin levels and he was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Months later, Pat Sheridan noticed a small growth on his back and went to visit his doctor. The doctor stated that it was a minor tumor that was benign (not cancerous). Approximately six months later, Sheridan returned and it was determined that the prior assessment was wrong and it was a malignant (cancerous) growth. By this time the cancer cells had progressed further into his spinal cord area. Pat soon lost considerable movement in his lower body and later died at the age of only 45.
National Academy of Medicine (NAM) Study
Researchers with NAM have been pioneers in studying diagnostic errors in the realm of the U.S. healthcare system. They define diagnostic errors as being a “failure to establish an accurate and/or timely explanation” of a health problem or condition. Their reports suggested that roughly 10% of patient fatalities are the result of failing to diagnose or delays in making a proper diagnosis. Diagnostic errors are among the primary causes that lead to cases of medical malpractice, which certainly can be costly.
Leading Diagnostic Mistakes 
Failing to properly exam or evaluate a patient
Not ordering diagnostic or lab tests
Failures in interpreting results
Errors involving referrals among providers
Lack of physician follow-up
Millions of patients each year visit emergency rooms complaining of “dizziness or vertigo.” Approximately 50% of the time the patient undergoes a CT scan. It is estimated that roughly 4% of these conditions are related to stroke. This is when there is obstructed blood flow within the brain. Unfortunately, these CT scans are generally unable to detect most kinds of stroke. This has been among the most problematic diagnostic errors because the patients are likely to experience damage to the brain, paralysis, and other major problems.
In addition to the problems with failing to diagnose and failing to make a timely diagnosis, often the diagnosis is incorrect. For statistical purposes, incorrectly identifying a particular condition may be classified as a failure to make a timely diagnosis also. This is commonly the case when a corrected diagnosis is finally made.
Many diagnostic errors are attributed to the hectic and often distracting work environment that physicians operate in. One approach that has proven to be effective in this regard is establishing an environment that is more “team-based.” The likelihood of a diagnostic error is reduced significantly when more than one practitioner is consulted regarding a diagnosis. Evidence suggests that encouraging doctors to seek assistance when they feel some uncertainty is key to preventing these errors.
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