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March 19th, 2007

Misdiagnosis Occurs In 15 To 20 Percent Of All Cases

Misdiagnosis occurs in 15 to 20 percent of all cases, according to a new book out by Dr. Jerome Groopman called “How Doctors Think.”

In an op-ed in today’s Boston Globe (The Mistakes Doctors Make) based on the book, Dr. Groopman writes:

Why do we as physicians miss the correct diagnosis? It turns out that the mistakes are rarely due to technical factors, like the laboratory mixing up the blood specimen of one patient and reporting another’s result. Nor is misdiagnosis usually due to a doctor’s lack of knowledge about what later is found to be the underlying disease.

Rather, most errors in diagnosis arise because of mistakes in thinking.

In the piece, he deconstructs how a tumor was missed for years in a woman who had just given birth.

The book is reviewed at this link to Time. The Time lead is for an overlooked tumor in an 8-year old. According to the review,

[Groopman] learned that about 80% of medical mistakes are the result of predictable mental traps, or cognitive errors, that bedevil all human beings. Only 20% are due to technical mishaps–mixed-up test results or hard-to-decipher handwriting–that typically loom larger in patients’ minds and on television shows.

The result of Groopman’s journey is How Doctors Think (Houghton Mifflin; 307 pages), an engagingly written book that is must reading for every physician who cares for patients and every patient who wishes to get the best care. Groopman says patients can prompt broader, sharper and less prejudiced thinking by asking doctors open-ended questions and learning to identify some of their common thinking mistakes.

While some have a knee-jerk reaction to the attorneys who initiate suit on behalf of patients injured by malpractice, it’s nice to know that some doctors are thinking about the actual problem. Because shooting the messenger, a time-honored way of changing the subject, is a lousy way of fixing a problem.

(Globe op-ed via David Williams at Health Business Blog)

Addendum 3/21/07Dr. Groopman on The Colbert Report.

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