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Medical Malpractice: Hurried Doctor Visits May Cause Misdiagnoses

Misdiagnoses DoctorIs the vanishing amount of time that doctors spend visiting with offices causing misdiagnoses? Researchers say the results of one study seem to indicate that. The study, of more than 200,000 of medical records at a Veterans Affairs primary care facility and four other private clinics, found that many misdiagnosed conditions - including some serious enough to form the basis of medical malpractice claims - happen because of basic problems during office visits.

The problems include miscommunications between patients and physicians, errors when doctors conduct exams and incorrect medical histories. According to the lead author of the study, all of these problems show doctors' limited time with patients is affecting them. He says that doctor-patient dialogue is important, but it is shrinking as doctors spend more time on the computer and less time with patients.

In the study, the researchers examined primary care visits in which the patient had an unplanned hospitalization or trip to the emergency room within two weeks. They reviewed the records to see whether the medical providers could have diagnosed the condition at the first visit.

Of the cases they found, many had multiple causes. About 80 percent of missed diagnoses happened because of errors during a physical exam, errors in taking the patient's medical history and similar problems. About 20 percent of errors happened because of referrals.

Another 16 percent involved patient factors such as miscommunications between the patient and doctor. Fifteen of the cases involved poor follow-up on tests. Test mix-ups such as misinterpretations were a factor in 14 percent of the cases.

To prevent misdiagnoses, experts say that it is critical for doctors to be aware of the potential for diagnostic mistakes and to seek systematic information about the outcomes their patients experience.

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