Raising Awareness of Diagnostic Quality and Safety with Policymakers

This month’s feature article describes the important work that the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has begun to create a Common Format for Diagnostic Safety Event reporting. As the nation’s patient safety agency, AHRQ has long had an interest in diagnostic error. Thanks to recent, albeit modest, increases in Congressional funding over the last three years, AHRQ has been ramping up work on tools and resources aimed at helping clinicians, patients, quality improvement professionals and health systems improve diagnostic safety and quality in practice. Examples include resources for using health information technology to engage patients in diagnostic decision making, a survey for physician offices to assess their patient-safety culture along dimensions important to diagnostic accuracy, timeliness, and communication, and practical guidance and examples for health care organizations to start using measurement to enhance diagnostic safety. The agency is slated to release several new tools this fall.

AHRQ also has made diagnostic safety a priority within its overall patient safety research program, and has contracted with academic and practice-based centers to conduct studies and stand up “learning laboratories” to develop solutions to complex challenges in the diagnostic process.

All this work takes resources to accomplish. SIDM members and the Coalition to Improve Diagnosis have been instrumental in bringing the issue of diagnostic safety and quality to policymaker attention, raising awareness, educating them about the scope and scale of the problem, and calling for increased research funding to begin to identify and implement scalable solutions. Deeply motivated Individuals also have championed this issue to their own elected officials.

This year, the House Appropriations Committee has designated $8Million for diagnostic quality and safety work at AHRQ, which would be the largest gain so far. The Senate Appropriations Committee will make its own recommendation in late summer. If you are interested in reaching out to your Senator or Representative to let them know about the importance of this issue, but would like some guidance on how to do that effectively, please contact Leslie Tucker, SIDM’s Sr. Policy Advisor, at Leslie.Tucker@improvediagnosis.org.