I was struck by the recent story in the New York Times about a young boy who was misdiagnosed, and lost his life.
The boy, Rory Staunton, was a healthy, active 12-year old, until one day he ended up in the middle of our time-strapped, broken healthcare system. He was treated by good, well-intentioned doctors, at a leading medical center, but something went terribly wrong. What started out as a minor cut suffered in a basketball game turned into a major infection that took his life.
Yet nowhere along Rory’s journey, from boy with a bellyache on Thursday to gravely ill boy on Friday night, did anyone act on strong indications that he might be fighting for his life. Critical information gathered by his family doctor and during his first visit to NYU Langone was not used, was not at hand or was not viewed as important when decisions were made about his care, records show.
Story’s like Rory’s happen far too often, and in far too familiar ways. Scientific studies show that patients are misdiagnosed between 15% and 44% of the time. Researchers have found that the combination of fragmented medical information and not enough time between doctor and patient are the leading causes of this problem. And yet, much of America is still unaware how often misdiagnosis happens. Lost in all the politics of healthcare is a recognition that, at its core, healthcare must be about making sure each and every patient gets the right care.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Policy-makers, doctors, hospitals and all of the rest of us have to recognize how serious of a problem this is. We can implement policies that will start to tackle the problem – first, by making it possible for hospitals and doctors to start collecting, studying, and sharing data on how often misdiagnosis happens, and why.
For this to work, hospitals would need to know that whatever information they gather is and would be kept confidential, and not be used as some kind of a way to generate lawsuits. Data about misdiagnosis can be used as a learning tool, revealing where, how and why things go wrong, and pointing the way to solutions that avoid needless suffering and wasted expense.
Evan Falchuk is President and Chief Strategy Officer of Best Doctors, Inc. Prior to joining Best Doctors, Inc., in 1999, he was an attorney at the Washington, DC, office of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson, where he worked on SEC enforcement cases.