Time Crunch Leads To Misdiagnoses And Other Mistakes

The amount of time your doctor spends with you could determine the quality of the care you receive. Many diagnostic mistakes stem from the time the doctor spends with the patient. Those errors can occur during the physical exam, the discussion of a patient’s medical history, or because of a miscommunication between the patient and the doctor during the time spent discussing the health concerns that prompted the visit. Those errors are only likely to increase as patient visits become shorter and primary care physicians are given less time to conduct exams and discuss the patient’s medical history.

According to a study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, 80 percent of misdiagnoses were, at least in part, the result of mistakes made in the doctor/patient encounter. The author of the study suggests that primary care doctors spend more and more time at the computer and handling administrative duties. That takes time away from direct interaction with patients. Doctors who spend less time with patients may also be losing the skills necessary to uncover important medical information. Getting a proper medical history and conducting a thorough exam are skills that may be lost if they are not emphasized.

A misdiagnosis can be life threatening. Among the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions were decompensated congestive heart failure, acute renal failure, cancer and pneumonia. Fourteen percent of the errors identified in the study were for conditions that could have resulted in immediate death. Every misdiagnosis is a serious problem.

Shortened office visits and the resulting misdiagnoses are another reason it is important for patients to take an active role in their care. Patients need to understand that they are at risk and doctors do not have all the answers. Mistakes happen and the person who will suffer for those mistakes is the patient.

Source: American Medical News, “Primary care time squeeze explains errors in diagnosis,” by Kevin B. O’Reilly, 11 March 2013