Takeaways: Improving Diagnosis in Health Care

The new report Improving Diagnosis in Health Care, released by the National Academies of Medicine (formerly IOM), has quickly gained tremendous attention in the medical community, mainstream press, and Best Doctors’ own social media channels. That’s because the report – which addresses the scourge of diagnostic error head-on – sounds many of the same notes that Best Doctors has been for years, and the message is resonating. So much ground is covered in the report, but there are a few key themes and takeaways to highlight.

DiagnosisFINAL.inddAt the outset, the new report makes clear that diagnosis is a collaborative effort and that patients themselves are central to finding a solution to diagnostic error. This is significant, as it makes clear that neither doctors nor policy makers have all the answers, but rather that patients have a voice and role in improving their care and outcomes. The report then defines diagnostic error as “the failure to (a) establish an accurate and timely explanation of the patient’s health problem(s) or (b) communicate that explanation to the patient.” Again, this is encouraging. The definition suggests that correct diagnosis isn’t just limited to naming the disease, but also making the patient central to that process.

There are a number of goals and recommendations put forward in the report. Some – like better medical education, better technology, and additional funding for researching diagnostic errors – are predictable. Others are more novel and ambitious, like designing a payment and care delivery environment that supports the diagnostic process. And while there are some measures that amount to top-down policy changes (like changing medical liability laws), what’s perhaps most interesting to me is that the lion’s share of the recommendations in the report can be implemented on a grassroots level, with individual health systems experimenting, learning, and best practice sharing with others.

I think if there are 3 salient points to take away from the new report, they would be—

  • Diagnostic error is real, and a huge contributor to ill health and increased health costs in the United States – 17 percent of adverse hospital events may owe to misdiagnosis
  • Despite previous reports on the subject and the formation of advocacy groups, diagnostic error remains a “blind spot” in our health care system
  • Improvement is possible, and the report provides recent examples of organizations pioneering innovative solutions and achieving early success

Diagnostic accuracy is vital, because when the diagnosis is wrong, everything that follows may be as well. Best Doctors has been the leader in medical advisory services, which help ensure the right diagnosis and treatment for any type of medical condition. A lot still needs to be done to improve diagnosis in health care; we look forward to being part of the conversation, and ultimately, the solution.

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