Diagnostic Errors May Be Avoided By Utilizing Health Information Technology: Report

A healthcare safety group has released new recommendations designed to help medical providers avoid many problems with misdiagnosis and diagnostic errors, by using health information technology more effectively.

Researchers with ECRI Institute and the Partnership for Health IT Patient Safety issued a white paper this month, “Implementing Closing the Loop Safe Practices for Diagnostic Results”, which focuses on how to reduce errors linked to diagnostic testing and specialty referral tracking.

Medical misdiagnosis is one of the most common causes of error that can lead to patient harm and inappropriate care. More than 6 million patients are harmed by medical diagnosis errors every year in the United States.

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This latest report was developed from a study that involved several healthcare facilities that followed recommended best practices.

Researchers indicate that when using these practices, doctors were better able to use their existing technology and modify their practice to better track patient information and diagnostic evaluations.

The study helped to further develop a step-by-step guide on implementing best practices to avoid errors, delayed diagnoses, and missed diagnoses.

The practices themselves include implementing a number of information technology-based solutions which allow healthcare personnel to track key diagnostic test results and referrals. This allowed them to be more likely to catch diagnostic errors before they affected patient treatment.

Many of the technologies are already in place, for example electronic patient charts and chart alerts.

The researchers issued the best practices step-by-step guide as a result of the study to help facilities implement the recommendations used during the pilot study.

According to the researchers, often multiple loops must be closed to improve patient safety and avoid delayed and missed diagnosis and treatment. The pilot project was also successful in addressing barriers to implementing the best practices.

Every year, about 5% of adults in the U.S. are subject to medical diagnostic errors. Of the more than 12 million diagnostic errors occurring in the U.S. each year, roughly 20% to 30% are caused by breakdowns in the referral process. The researchers believe using the new best practices approach to medical technology will prevent many of those diagnostic errors.

“Reducing diagnostic errors requires more attention by leaders in all care settings—acute, long-term, and ambulatory,” says Dr. Marcus Schabacker, president and CEO of the ECRI Institute. “This research is important because it demonstrates how health IT processes can be implemented to reduce diagnostic errors.”

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