John Rother

If you study misdiagnosis you realize how often patients get the wrong diagnosis.

But what do expert doctors think about how often it happens? And what do they think can be done to address it?

We wanted to find out so we partnered with the National Coalition on Healthcare to conduct a landmark, nationwide survey. We surveyed 400 cancer specialists from our Best Doctors database – and the findings were provocative.

The survey, “Exploring Diagnostic Accuracy in Cancer: A Nationwide Survey of 400 Leading Cancer Specialists,” focused on what doctors believe to be the most significant barriers in efforts to accurately diagnose cancers; the types of cancer they believe are most often misdiagnosed; and the tools and improvements they most need to combat misdiagnosis.

One of the most surprising findings was on how often doctors believe misdiagnosis happens. While published studies show that misdiagnosis occurs in about 15-28% of cases, the large majority of doctors we surveyed thought it happens in less than 10% of cases. At the same time, doctors recognized that the root causes of misdiagnosis were very prevalent – fragmented medical information, disparities in experience among pathologists and other factors.

So – how to explain the difference in doctors’ perceptions and the published research? I think it is because there is no systematic feedback loop for doctors letting them know of inaccuracies in their care. If you diagnose someone and they go on to get treatment someplace, and it’s later discovered that a diagnosis wasn’t exactly right, the original doctor may never find out about it. If you don’t hear about it, you can’t be blamed for thinking this problem is rare. It also means you miss out on the opportunity to improve the quality of care that these cases represent.

Another interesting point. Doctors reported that, regardless of how often they thought diagnostic inaccuracies happened, it is a problem that needed more attention from policy-makers. As NCHC President and CEO John Rother observed, “Not enough is being done on the state and federal policy end of things to acknowledge and firmly address this critical issue. Given our current health care climate and challenges, as decision-makers become more aware of the frequency of misdiagnosis and the enormous costs associated with it, they have a sizeable opportunity to make diagnostic accuracy much more of a ‘front and center’ issue in health care.”

Here’s to that promising thought.

Evan Falchuk is Vice Chairman of Best Doctors, Inc., where this post originally appeared. 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. This post originally appeared on Best Doctors, Inc.’s See First Blog.

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