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New Study by MEDVAMC Researcher Finds Outpatient Diagnostic Errors Affect 1 in 20 US Adults

April 17, 2014

Dr. Hardeep Singh being interviewed by Al Jazeera America on his findings on diagnostic errors during outpatient medical appointments. 

A MEDVAMC researcher is taking the lead nationally on quantifying diagnostic errors in the medical community.   Hardeep Singh, M.D., M.P.H., chief of the health policy, quality & informatics program at the Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety, based at MEDVAMC in Houston, recently reported some significant findings on a comprehensive study that estimated frequency of diagnostic errors during outpatient medical appointments.
Singh’s study, published in the April 2, 2014 issue of BMJ Quality & Safety and covered in more than 100 media outlets across the country, found that diagnostic errors—missed opportunities to make a timely or correct diagnosis based on available evidence—occur in about 5 percent of adults in the United States.  The study authors estimate that approximately 12 million adults in the U.S. could experience an outpatient diagnostic error each year.
“What we found in this study is consistent with recent data from the general public about diagnostic errors,” Singh said.  “This study is significant because it is based on a large sample size and is the most robust estimate thus far to address the frequency of diagnostic error in routine outpatient care.”
According to Singh, he and his fellow researchers built estimates of diagnostic error by compiling and analyzing data from three previous studies.  These studies evaluated situations such as unexpected return visits and lack of timely follow up and provided researchers with an estimated frequency of diagnostic error. This frequency was then applied to the general adult population.  
“Misdiagnosis is clearly a serious problem for the health care field,” said Singh. “This estimate should provide a foundation for policymakers, health care organizations, and researchers to strengthen efforts to measure and reduce diagnostic errors.”  
Singh hopes his research into this topic will lead to increased measurement and reduction of diagnostic errors nationally.  “The vast majority of diagnoses are accurate, but it is critically important that health care professionals also receive feedback in a measureable way on their diagnostic performance,” he said.  “It’s good for the patient, good for their families and good for the doctor.”
On April 14, 2014, Singh, was among the 102 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) and traveled to the White House to be honored by President Obama.  The PECASE is the highest honor conferred by the U.S. government on federal researchers in the early stages of their independent careers.