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News2010September › Doctors make serious mistake with half of all patients › September 2010

Doctors make serious mistake with half of all patients

Doctors make a serious mistake - such as making a wrong diagnosis or recommending an inappropriate treatment - with half of all the patients they see

Doctors make a serious mistake - such as making a wrong diagnosis or recommending an inappropriate treatment - with half of all the patients they see.
Doctors get it seriously wrong 54 per cent of the time when they see out-patients, a new study has discovered.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco made the alarming discovery when they interviewed 1,697 people who had been seen as out-patients at seven health centres in North Carolina during 2008.
In total, 943 patients - or 54 per cent - reported a serious mistake the doctor had made. Of these, 265 - or 15.6 per cent - said the physician had made a mistake, 227 (13.4 per cent) reported a wrong diagnosis, 212 (12.5 per cent) said they had been given the wrong treatment, and 239 (14.1 per cent) merely stated they had changed physicians after a mistake, although they did not specify what the error had been.
Researchers fear the real situation could be even worse. Those who reported errors were better educated and had previous experience of medicine as they had a chronic health problem. Those who were either poorly educated or had no previous experience of medical procedures did not report any medical mistakes - although that does not mean they didn't happen.
* Getting the diagnosis wrong is one of the greatest threats to patient safety, says leading physician Dr Gordon Caldwell. Dr Caldwell of Worthing Hospital says that doctors quickly formulate a 'working diagnosis' about a patient when he is admitted to hospital. This triggers a line of treatment and, if the patient improves, the diagnosis is confirmed; if he doesn't, the hospital team will reconsider the diagnosis.
"The time taken to reach the correct diagnosis may critically impact on the patient's chances of survival. Over my career, I have seen many errors in the working diagnosis causing harm and even death to patients," he says.
(Source: University of California study - Archives of Internal Medicine, 2010; 170: 1480-7; Gordon Caldwell essay - British Medical Journal, 2010; 341: c4593).


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