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What causes medical diagnostic errors?

When you experience physical symptoms, you visit a doctor to perform diagnostic testing. These tests often involve imaging equipment, blood draws, and physical exams, which help medical staff understand the possible causes of symptoms to develop a suitable treatment.

Unfortunately, some doctors miss key indicators during diagnostic testing, which leads to errors. According to the World Health Organization, diagnostic errors can occur at every level of the process, but research shows issues are most common during doctor-patient interactions. Here are a few reasons why diagnosing errors can occur.

Poor communication

Your primary care physician must work with specialists in conjunction to develop a reasonable treatment approach. This requires continuous communication about your health, your symptoms, and many other matters. When communication is poor between doctors and specialists, it is impossible to convey important information in a meaningful way.

Disorganized workplaces

A fast, hectic pace is common at many hospitals and medical clinics. Maintaining an organized, efficient system is key, as it allows healthcare professionals to provide the highest quality of care possible. However, when systems break down or fail to accommodate the needs of medical staff, mistakes are far more likely.

Lack of follow-up

After diagnostic testing, doctors must follow up with patients in a reasonable timeframe. This allows them to communicate the diagnosis, as well as discuss potential treatment approaches. When follow-up appointments fail to occur, patients cannot receive the necessary medication, surgery, or therapy to treat their disease or condition. While this is sometimes the fault of the patient for failing to attend subsequent appointments, doctor inattention or oversight is another factor.

Some diagnostic errors amount to nothing more than an inconvenience. In more serious cases, a single error can lead to a poor medical outcome and a delay of life-saving treatment. Unfortunately, the majority of errors accompany significant medical issues, such as cancer and heart attack.