New Research Showcases the Extent of Diagnostic Error Harm

On July 11, 2019, David-Newman Toker, president of the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine (SIDM), Helen Burstin of the Council of Medical Specialty Societies, Thomas Heymann of the Sepsis Alliance, and Diana Cejas, a pediatric neurologist from North Carolina, joined SIDM co-founder and CEO Paul Epner on Capitol Hill to release important new research showcasing harm attributable to diagnostic errors and share the results with media and Senate and House healthcare staff.

According to the new research, which appeared in Diagnosis, one-third (34%) of malpractice cases that result in death or permanent disability stem from an inaccurate or delayed diagnosis, making diagnostic error the number one cause of serious harms among medical errors.

Of the diagnostic errors causing the most harm, three quarters (74.1%) are attributable to just three categories of conditions: cancer (37.8%), vascular events (22.8%), and infection (13.5%). These severe cases resulted in $1.8 billion in malpractice payouts over 10 years. The authors also show that the top five errors in each category collectively account for nearly half (47.1%) of all the serious harms.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and CRICO Strategies analyzed more than 55,000 malpractice claims from CRICO Strategies’ Comparative Benchmarking System database to determine how many were attributable to diagnostic error.

The findings suggest potential areas of focus for future research and interventions at a time when the federal government is taking inaccurate and delayed diagnosis seriously. In fact, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has made reduction of diagnostic errors one of its three strategic priorities.

Epner spoke at the research release and noted that, “This work showcases the fact that myriad factors contribute to missed and delayed diagnosis. And it highlights the need for further collaboration across the healthcare system to significantly improve diagnosis and ensure the best possible outcomes for patients.”

Members of the Coalition to Improve Diagnosis, which includes more than 50 organizations representing leading healthcare and patient advocacy organizations shared the research findings with their members. The release was made possible through a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Mont Fund, which also supported the launch of the ACT for Better Diagnosis initiative last fall to illustrate Coalition members’ commitment to taking action, sharing best practices, and working collaboratively to improve diagnostic quality and safety.

Watch the release here.