From the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Boston, MA (Dr. Abid); Continuous Quality Improvement and Patient Safety Department, Armed Forces Hospitals Taif Region, Taif, Saudi Arabia (Dr. Abid); Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department, Government of Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan (Dr. Ahmed); Infection Prevention and Control Department, Armed Forces Hospitals Taif Region, Taif, Saudi Arabia (Dr. Din); Internal Medicine Department, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Baltimore, MD (Dr. Abid); Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care, DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center, Houston Methodist Hospital, Houston, TX (Dr. Ratnani).
Diagnostic errors are defined by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) as the failure to either establish an accurate and timely explanation of the patient’s health problem(s) or communicate that explanation to the patient.1 According to a report by the Institute of Medicine, diagnostic errors account for a substantial number of adverse events in health care, affecting an estimated 12 million Americans each year.1 Diagnostic errors are a common and serious issue in health care systems, with studies estimating that 5% to 15% of all diagnoses are incorrect.1 Such errors can result in unnecessary treatments, delays in necessary treatments, and harm to patients. The high prevalence of diagnostic errors in primary care has been identified as a global issue.2 While many factors contribute to diagnostic errors, the complex nature of health care systems, the limited processing capacity of human cognition, and deficiencies in interpersonal patient-clinician communication are primary contributors.3,4
Discussions around the redesign of health care systems to reduce diagnostic errors have been at the forefront of medical research for years.2,4 To decrease diagnostic errors in health care, a comprehensive strategy is necessary. This strategy should focus on utilizing both human experience (HX) in health care and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to transform health care systems into proactive, patient-centered, and safer systems, specifically concerning diagnostic errors.1
Human Experience and Diagnostic Errors
The role of HX in health care cannot be overstated. The HX in health care integrates the sum of all interactions, every encounter among patients, families and care partners, and the health care workforce.5 Patients and their families have a unique perspective on their health care experiences that can provide valuable insight into potential diagnostic errors.6 The new definition of diagnostic errors introduced in the 2015 NASEM report emphasized the significance of effective communication during the diagnostic procedure.1 Engaging patients and their families in the diagnostic process can improve communication, improve diagnostic accuracy, and help to identify errors before they cause harm.7 However, many patients and families feel that they are not listened to or taken seriously by health care providers, and may not feel comfortable sharing information that they feel is important.8 To address this, health care systems can implement programs that encourage patients and families to be more engaged in the diagnostic process, such as shared decision-making, patient portals, and patient and family advisory councils.9 Health care systems must prioritize patient-centered care, teamwork, and communication. Patients and their families must be actively engaged in their care, and health care providers must be willing to work collaboratively and listen to patients’ concerns.6,10
Health care providers also bring their own valuable experiences and expertise to the diagnostic process, as they are often the ones on the front lines of patient care. However, health care providers may not always feel comfortable reporting errors or near misses, and may not have the time or resources to participate in quality improvement initiatives. To address this, health care systems can implement programs that encourage providers to report errors and near misses, such as anonymous reporting systems, just-culture initiatives, and peer review.11 Creating a culture of teamwork and collaboration among health care providers can improve the accuracy of diagnoses and reduce the risk of errors.12
A key factor in utilizing HX to reduce diagnostic errors is effective communication. Communication breakdowns among health care providers, patients, and their families are a common contributing factor resulting in diagnostic errors.2 Strategies to improve communication include using clear and concise language, involving patients and their families in the decision-making process, and utilizing electronic health records (EHRs) to ensure that all health care providers have access to relevant, accurate, and up-to-date patient information.4,13,14
Another important aspect of utilizing HX in health care to reduce diagnostic errors is the need to recognize and address cognitive biases that may influence diagnostic decisions.3 Cognitive biases are common in health care and can lead to errors in diagnosis. For example, confirmation bias, which is the tendency to look for information that confirms preexisting beliefs, can lead providers to overlook important diagnostic information.15 Biases such as anchoring bias, premature closure, and confirmation bias can lead to incorrect diagnoses and can be difficult to recognize and overcome. Addressing cognitive biases requires a commitment to self-reflection and self-awareness among health care providers as well as structured training of health care providers to improve their diagnostic reasoning skills and reduce the risk of cognitive errors.15 By implementing these strategies around HX in health care, health care systems can become more patient-centered and reduce the likelihood of diagnostic errors (Figure).