The Battle Against Misdiagnosis

Photo credit:The Wall Street Journal

How is it possible that several different doctors in the emergency room of a major New York City hospital could misdiagnose what was wrong with 12-year-old Rory Staunton? The symptoms and subsequent lab tests should have indicated the presence of a serious streptococcal bacterial infection, but that’s not what he was immediately treated for. As a result, the infection traveled into his bloodstream. Rory went into septic shock and died.

An estimated 12 million Americans are misdiagnosed every year. Dr. Hardep Singh, chief of Health Policy, Quality and Information at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, writes in the Wall Street Journal that more can be done to prevent these unfortunate and sometimes deadly mistakes. He says communication between doctor and patient needs to improve: “This problem exists in large part because time pressures and paperwork often force physicians to spend more time struggling to get reimbursed than talking with patients. Extra hours spent pursuing a correct diagnosis are not compensated beyond the payment for the visit, an already small sum for primary-care physicians.”

He also says insurance companies can help by improving reimbursement policies and making paperwork less time-consuming. Another important thing is timely feedback systems that allow physicians to better track the accuracy of their diagnoses to help prevent mistakes from happening.

Rory Staunton’s death led New York State to take action to prevent mistakes like this from happening again with the passage in 2013 of Rory’s Regulations. The law requires health care providers to follow a series of protocols to rapidly identify and treat sepsis infections,

Of course, patients still need to do their part by keeping track of their own medical history, giving the physician as much relevant information as possible and asking good questions. Do you feel that when you have dealings with medical personnel, you are well prepared to do just that?

UPDATE: Rory’s family held a national symposium on sepsis in September 2014. The Staunton’s, work has led to new standards for New York hospitals, which are now required to use a checklist to rule out sepsis for each patient . (CBS News, .9/17/14)

The Wall Street Journal, 8/7/14

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