The undiscussed medical error

7 questions that could save your life

(Family Features) While you may routinely hear about medical errors, it’s less common to hear about a misdiagnosis.

Inaccurate or delayed medical diagnosis is a medical error many people rarely talk about. Yet research released by the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine (SIDM) shows it remains the most common, costly and catastrophic of all medical errors.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine and CRICO Strategies found that 34% of malpractice cases resulting in death or permanent disability stem from an inaccurate or delayed diagnosis, making it the No. 1 cause of serious harm among medical errors.

This happens, in large part, because making and communicating a medical diagnosis is a complex and imperfect science. There are more than 10,000 known diseases and more than 5,000 laboratory tests, but only a limited number of symptoms to provide the clues necessary to make an accurate diagnosis.

However, there is a new sense of momentum in the healthcare community to raise awareness and reduce inaccurate and delayed diagnoses, including more funding from the federal government.

Even as researchers and experts continue to explore how best to address this costly, dangerous and sometimes deadly issue, it is important for patients to be aware of it. Everyone has a role to play in improving the diagnostic process, including physicians, nurses, radiologists, laboratory scientists, health system leaders and, perhaps most especially, patients.

It’s critically important that patients share information with their medical providers and know the right questions to ask in order to decrease the likelihood of misdiagnosis.

To help patients have conversations with their physicians about their diagnoses, SIDM’s patient toolkit offers a questions checklist, including these seven questions to ask:

  • What is my diagnosis? What else could it be?
  • Why do you think this is my diagnosis? From test results? From my physical exam?
  • Can you give me written information about my diagnosis? A pamphlet? A website?
  • Can you explain the test or treatment you want me to have?
  • What are the risks to the test or treatment you want me to have? What happens if I do nothing?
  • When do I need to follow up with you?
  • What should I do if my symptoms worsen or change, or if I don’t respond to treatment?

In addition to these questions, always ask when test results will be ready. Get a copy for your records and call your doctor’s office if you do not receive your test results.

For more information and steps you can take to avoid misdiagnosis, download the Patient’s Toolkit for Diagnosis and share your personal story of inaccurate or delayed diagnosis at


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine

One thought

  1. The WHO is a vital oversight in the quality of healthcare. Healthcare must progress and by that I mean that it must become organized as much as it must involve scientific advances. I’m convinced that death certification is a really big part of both these aspects. A simple but really well structured form, the Medical Certificate of the Cause of Death (MCCD) is sadly under-utilized. It is seen as a chore, something a junior person does. However, the MCCD when done correctly, serves to inform the sequence of a death and introduces cumulative diagnostic strengths going forward. It provides data for interventions and knowledge of when to perform these. It prevents hospital homicides or adverse events since staff and practitioners know in advance that every step of the dying sequence will have to be accounted for. At present, lines (d) to (a) or “underlying” to “immediate” cause of death is not taken seriously at all. It’s a huge loss that arrogance, hierarchy and even cover-up affect this great medical record basic. I would like to work with someone or an organization who understands the importance of this “paperwork.” The benefits of being well-organized will probably find no better than fit than in the area of accurate, honest, helpful death reporting.


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