5 Ways to Decrease Diagnostic Errors

The emerging science of identifying and reducing diagnostic errors represents "a new horizon of opportunities," according to an October 18, 2016, article in the Annals of Internal Medicine. An event should be considered an "error," the authors said, "only when unequivocal evidence suggests that a key finding was missed or not investigated when it should have been." The authors also said that errors should be framed as learning opportunities and not as a way to assign blame to someone. The goal of thinking about errors in this way, the authors said, is "to identify what could have been done differently" and then use that knowledge to improve safety in the future. The authors identified five dimensions to target for improvement and potential strategies for each. First, in the patient-physician encounter, to reduce risk of diagnostic error, providers can allocate time to communicate effectively with patients and caregivers, improve knowledge, and improve clinical reasoning. Second, to improve interpretation of diagnostic tests, providers can collaborate with laboratory professionals to interpret results and seek out face-to-face communication in the event of difficult diagnoses. Third, for errors related to follow-up and tracking, providers can clarify who is responsible for each task and use health information technology (IT) tools to ensure follow-up is completed. Fourth, for errors related to miscommunication with subspecialists, providers can use direct communication to relay critical information. Finally, to improve patient-focused strategies, providers should encourage patient and family participation and improve patient engagement by ensuring patients know what to do after discharge.

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