Diagnostic errors are a major problem in U.S. healthcare. More than 12 million adults are misdiagnosed each year in the United States. A new paper published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine proposes a new way to tackle the problem of misdiagnosis in hospitals.

Lead author Andrew Olson, MD, an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School, proposes addressing some of the major challenges facing hospitalists and medical professionals by measuring the problem of misdiagnosis in a standardized way and tracking improvements. 

“One of the major challenges in improving safety and the diagnostic process is that it is very difficult to measure when a diagnostic error happens, and therefore, difficult to show how you can improve it,” explained Olson. “While many national organizations and governmental agencies have called for programs and initiatives to reduce harm from diagnostic errors in the past, this paper puts forth a new paradigm for measuring safety and diagnosis.”

In “Tracking Progress in Improving Diagnosis: A Framework for Defining Undesirable Diagnostic Events,” Olson and team suggest a new approach for measuring and reporting diagnostic errors by first redefining that measurement, which they term “Undesirable Diagnostic Events”.

Based on their newly proposed framework and criteria, health care delivery systems and researchers will be able to identify relevant health conditions prone to error and measure how frequently undesirable diagnostic events associated with these conditions occur. This approach is similar to those used in other areas of patient safety, where well-defined events, called Serious Safety Events, are tracked and reported over time and across systems. The goal is to use the new criteria to measure when errors happen in the system and then take steps to make improvements over time, allowing researchers and health care systems to reduce patient harm from misdiagnosis.

“This framework is an important step in allowing health care systems and researchers to proactively measure diagnostic safety and share this information effectively,” said Dr. Olson. “If we design processes to make diagnosis better but can’t measure their effect, we will never know if we are making a difference.”

Read “Tracking Progress in Improving Diagnosis: A Framework for Defining Undesirable Diagnostic Events."