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The Next Organizational Challenge: Finding and Addressing Diagnostic Error

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Background: Although health care organizations (HCOs) are intensely focused on improving the safety of health care, efforts to date have almost exclusively targeted treatment-related issues. The literature confirms that the approaches HCOs use to identify adverse medical events are not effective in finding diagnostic errors, so the initial challenge is to identify cases of diagnostic error.

Why Health Care Organizations Need to Get Involved: HCOs are preoccupied with many quality- and safety-related operational and clinical issues, including performance measures. The case for paying attention to diagnostic errors, however, is based on the following four points: (1) diagnostic errors are common and harmful, (2) highquality health care requires high-quality diagnosis, (3) diagnostic errors are costly, and (4) HCOs are well positioned to lead the way in reducing diagnostic error.

Finding Diagnostic Errors: Current approaches to identifying diagnostic errors, such as occurrence screens, incident reports, autopsy, and peer review, were not designed to detect diagnostic issues (or problems of omission in general) and/or rely on voluntary reporting. The realization that the existing tools are inadequate has spurred efforts to identify novel tools that could be used to discover diagnostic errors or breakdowns in the diagnostic process that are associated with errors. New approaches—Maine Medical Center's case-finding of diagnostic errors by facilitating direct reports from physicians and Kaiser Permanente's electronic health record– based reports that detect process breakdowns in the followup of abnormal findings—are described in case studies.

Conclusion: By raising awareness and implementing targeted programs that address diagnostic error, HCOs may begin to play an important role in addressing the problem of diagnostic error.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2014-03-01

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  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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