Nearly 17% Doctors Admit Making Diagnostic Errors Every Day


In a recent poll undertaken by researchers from John Hopkins University School of Medicine, it has been revealed that 17 % doctors make errors related to patient diagnosis on a daily basis. This number varies across their specialties and pediatricians were the least likely to make errors among them. As per the poll doctors in emergency medicine make the highest number of errors at nearly 26 % while general physicians make 22 % errors and family doctors make 15 % diagnostic mistakes. The least diagnostic errors are made by pediatricians at 11 % and internal medicine doctors at 15 %. Others from medical fraternity like nurses, registered nurses and doctors’ assistants also accepted that around 17 % of them make diagnostic errors daily.

The poll was conducted to find out if there is any truth in the study by Medscape that was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine that doctors underestimate the errors they make during patient diagnosis. The poll conducted on 751 medical staff comprising of 633 doctors and 118 nursing personnel collected data from doctors of 9 internal medicine training programs at Connecticut to collect facts about uncertainty and error levels of diagnosis. While most believed that diagnostic errors are rare around half of them felt that there is a fair degree of uncertainty on a daily basis. Studies conducted earlier showed that errors related to diagnosis of medical problems happen in 10-15 % of all cases. During the Medscape poll a registered nurse wrote that it is critical to distinguish between uncertainty and incorrect diagnosis and the former factor decides if a patient should be referred to a specialist. Rates of uncertainty between male and female doctors were similar and poll results have revealed that nurses and assistants are likely to face higher rate of uncertainty in comparison to doctors. All of them agreed that diagnostic errors happen due to some common reasons described below.

No feedback on accuracy of diagnosis (38 % doctors and 44 % of other staff stated this as the biggest reason).

Time constraint – (37 % doctors and 47 % medical staff felt this was a definite reason).

Culture discourages error disclosure (27 % doctors and 33 % medical staff).

Doctors in emergency medicine were more likely than others to accept that they faced diagnostic uncertainty on a daily basis due to the diversity of medical cases they witnessed.

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