From the Field: Shaping Policy to Improve Diagnosis

The Policy Committee of the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine (SIDM) guides the Society’s efforts to prioritize diagnosis in public policy conversations about healthcare quality, safety and value. The committee includes policy, clinical, and patient experts from SIDM and the multi-stakeholder Coalition to Improve Diagnosis.

Currently, diagnostic error is the most significant yet most under-studied of all healthcare harms, representing just .02% of the government’s healthcare research budget. Clearly, more investment is needed and for the last two years, SIDM’s top policy priority has been to increase federal investment in diagnostic quality and safety research. SIDM’s has prioritized the idea of new Research Centers of Diagnostic Excellence and a Council of key federal health agencies to identify opportunities for interagency coordination and collaboration to close gaps in the research pipeline.

SIDM leaders and volunteers have met with dozens of policymakers from both political parties to raise awareness about diagnostic error. In addition, members of the Coalition have signed a Consensus Statement in support of increased federal research funding for diagnostic quality and safety. In July, SIDM hosted a Capitol Hill briefing to release a new study which offers a potential path forward for shaping research priorities.

The work is yielding significant results. Last year, for the first time, Congress appropriated dedicated funding to the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ) for research to improve diagnostic quality and safety. At $2 million, the funding was modest but an important milestone. This year, the House is proposing to at least double that amount. Meanwhile, AHRQ has announced that reducing diagnostic errors is now one of its three strategic organizational priorities, and the agency already has convened the interagency coordinating Council to begin to coordinate federally-supported research efforts to improve diagnosis.

As SIDM continues to highlight the need for a significantly greater federal investment in research that is proportional to the scope and scale of diagnostic harm, the Society also is broadening its focus to other critical policy domains. For example, SIDM is exploring how policies at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that govern health information technology and electronic health records might better support clinicians and patients in arriving at accurate and timely diagnosis. SIDM is also asking how CMS's experiments with new payment models could advance diagnostic quality.

The theme of SIDM’s 12th Annual Diagnostic Error in Medicine conference in Washington DC (November 10-13, 2019) is “Shaping Policy, Improving Practice”. A number of sessions will highlight the link between featured research, quality improvement and education strategies from the field and opportunities to for policymakers to support diagnostic quality and safety. Through interactive workshops and multiple networking opportunities, as well as an afternoon of scheduled visits with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Attendees will be able to use their expertise and experience to inform and help move SIDM’s policy agenda forward. Though SIDM is not a large organization by Washington DC standards, it is “punching above its weight class” because the mission and message resonate so broadly—everyone has a story tell.