The death of a 12-year-old New York boy in April brought national attention to a widespread problem: missed diagnoses. When a doctor fails to conduct the proper tests and a diagnosis is missed, that is a form of medical malpractice. In the case of that young boy, what was written off as a minor stomach ailment was, in fact, an infection that spread and caused his death by septic shock just three days after he was sent home from a doctor’s office. While that case drew attention to the specific problem of sepsis, it also highlights a number of problems that can lead almost any type of ailment to go undiagnosed.
Some doctors and hospitals were inspired by those troubling events to examine ways in which the problem of missed diagnosis and misdiagnosis can be addressed. Some have experimented with the use of checklists, training software, and time spent discussing test results with the parents of young patients as methods to reduce deadly mistakes. The New York State health commissioner is even holding a symposium directly concerning sepsis and its identification and treatment. Johns Hopkins Medical Center also plans to address the issue at its international conference on medical errors.
In many cases, the problem comes from inefficient or ineffective methods of communication. As a patient is directed from one doctor to another, often a specialist, information is lost and vital clues are overlooked. In the medical field, several symptoms may be necessary to identify a serious problem. If three different doctors notice one symptom each, the problem may not be diagnosed until it is too late. Too many hospitals simply have no method of gathering and sharing information over the course of treatment.
Recent studies have shown that unnecessary testing is a common issue in the health care industry. Before ordering more tests, it seems that hospitals should work on analyzing and understanding the results of the tests already conducted.
Source: The New York Times, “Death of a Boy Prompts New Medical Efforts Nationwide,” by Jim Dwyer, 25 October 2012