How Much Do Missed Diagnoses Cost The System?

English: Extract from the text of the original...
English: Extract from the text of the original document: “figure shows the fraction of gross domestic product (GDP) devoted to health care in a number of developed countries in 2006. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States spent 15.3 percent of its GDP on health care in 2006. The next highest country was Switzerland, with 11.3 percent. In most other high-income countries, the share was less than 10 percent.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want my doctor to be always right. When a doctor gives you the latin name for what ails you, it just feels good. The trouble is, doctors are humans. And humans make mistakes.

How many mistakes? Between 15% and 28% of the time. That’s almost one-in-three patients in a worst case scenario. It costs the U.S. Healthcare system seven hundred billion dollars, about a third of health care costs. (Data from Best Doctors’ report: here)

So how often do doctors think they misdiagnose?  In a survey of cancer doctors, the majority thought they misdiagnosed 0-10% of the time.  Less than 5% guessed they misdiagnosed 20-30% of the time, and about 2% estimated they misdiagnosed 30-40% of the time.  The Journal of Oncology estimates cancer misdiagnosis rates from 28% to 44%.

If the doctors who are making the diagnoses aren’t aware of the level of error they are likely to have, then they have no incentive to correct the error.  In the instance of cancer, a missed diagnosis means death, while a false diagnosis means hundreds of thousands of dollars of unnecessary, life-threatening treatment.

When asked about how to correct the problem, the cancer doctors asked for greater confidentiality about reporting errors, better technology, and changes in the laws.  None of them mentioned simply acknowledging that they were likely to make errors as a way to avoid making them.



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