About half the pediatricians responding to an anonymous survey acknowledged making at least one diagnostic error a month, and just under half said that at least once a year they made errors that harmed patients.
Published in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics, the survey involved 726 academic and community-based pediatricians or pediatric residents practicing in Houston or Cincinnati.
“Diagnosing viral illness as bacterial infection was the most commonly reported diagnostic error, closely followed by failure to recognize the side effects of medication.”
“In all, 55% of the pediatric residents, 48% of the pediatricians working at academic centers, and 53% of community-based pediatricians reported that they had misdiagnosed viral illness as bacterial infection.”
“Other key findings from the survey included:
- When asked to identify the reasons for diagnostic process errors, about half of the doctors (48%) cited a lack of information of the patient’s medical history or failure to review medical charts.
- Just over 40% said failure by the parent or caregiver to seek medical attention in a timely manner contributed to the diagnostic error and 39% cited failure to follow up on abnormal diagnostic lab tests.
- The pediatricians and pediatric residents cited better access to electronic health records and closer follow-up of patients after initial treatment as strategies most likely to reduce diagnostic errors in pediatric practice.”
For comparison’s sake one team of doctors estimated that diagnostic errors result in as many as 40,000 to 80,000 hospital deaths each year in the United States.
Out of literally hundreds of visits to our pediatrician, I can only think of one misdiagnosis. We thought Walsh had a cold sore that wouldn’t go away. The school nurse told me it was a cold sore and told me to ask the doctor for a certain medicine. We went in and the doctor agreed and treated it. We treated it three times a day for two months and it never went away! My girlfriend who is a dermatologist encouraged me to take him to see a dermatologist because it’s such a specialized field and she was right. The dermatologist said immediately it was eczema and the cream she gave us literally cured it in one night!
What about your pediatrician? Has he or she ever misdiagnosed your child? Was it due to lack of medical history, failure to seek treatment right away or was he or she just plain wrong? Would electronic records have helped?