Diagnostic Errors: More Frequent and Damaging Than Previously

According to a new study of 2,428 patient records from 29 medical centers, hospitalized patients who died or received an ICU transfer during their stay had a diagnostic error nearly 25% of the time. This article examines this report and the effect of medical errors on patient health.

What Are The Effects of These Errors?

The study revealed that 18% of patients suffered temporary or permanent harm because of these errors. Researchers also reported that diagnostic error contributed to 7% of cases involving 1,863 dead patients.

What Causes These Errors?

The study’s authors said that delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis are more common than previously thought. They also said this could be due to physicians dealing with higher workloads or certain types of patients.

Researchers also said the study was “striking” as it examined the records and data of seriously ill patients, some of whom may have had poor treatment outcomes despite errors. However, they said future research could compare hospitalized patients with similar diagnoses and seriousness of illness to understand the effect of diagnostic errors.

Can Diagnostic Errors Be Avoided?

Medical experts believe doctors owe patients a responsibility to examine their roles in contributing to patient harm through diagnostic errors. They also said doctors can make improvements through investments in research and quality improvement initiatives to boost the diagnostic process in clinical care and medical education.

Experts are also considering the role of new AI tools in improving diagnostic accuracy. However, recent evidence discovered that ChatGPT incorrectly diagnosed over eight in 10 pediatric case studies, highlighting the shortcomings of the new technology.

Researchers said that AI can assist with diagnosis at the point of care. However, they expressed concerns about its ability to solve time-pressure issues, such as how many patients doctors have to handle and how many hand-offs are going on.

Alternatively, some experts suggest low-tech tools could reduce provider mistakes. One solution currently being studied is the “diagnostic pause,” a timeout for clinicians to consult their colleagues and review a checklist to ensure they didn’t miss ordering any tests or overlook any clues in a patient’s medical history. Experts also said it gives doctors time to think and plan their next move.


Diagnostic errors are responsible for thousands of accidental patient deaths. However, researchers believe AI tools and strategies like the diagnostic pause could prevent mistakes and guarantee accurate treatment.