Dr David Newman-Toker an Associate Professor of Neurology at St. John’s Hopkins University School of Medicine has recently headed up a Study into medical malpractice in the USA reviewing 25 years’ of medical malpractice claims.

The Study found that diagnostic errors were the most common source of claims and the most dangerous errors from the patient welfare perspective. The Study reviewed both incorrect and delayed diagnoses. with Dr. Newman- Toker commenting that “People who study diagnostic errors have known for many years that diagnostic errors are the bottom of the iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is what we have been focusing on for the last decade, which is reducing medication errors and on-site surgeries . These are important problems but they are not as big a problem in terms of their overall public health burden as diagnostic errors are”.

The Study found that diagnostic errors were the most likely to result in disability or death with the primary issue being missed diagnosis as opposed to late diagnosis.

Dr Newman-Toker observed that research and innovation has shifted away from the importance of diagnosing conditions first. “Treatment starts with diagnosis”, he says.

The Study recommends that Hospitals be required to track and report misdiagnoses and that Government invest in understanding how to avoid such occurrences.

In a separate Study carried out by Researchers from Boston Childrens’ Hospital and Harvard Medical School we get an interesting insight into one of the root causes of Medical Negligence. Breakdown in Communications among Medical Personnel has significant negative implications. It was reported that improved COMMUNICATION among health care providers reduced injuries due to medical errors by 30%.

In 80% of the cases considered, the Study has identified a causative link between medical errors and poor communication between clinicians, particularly during work shift changes.

The Study has also reported that an intensive three hour training program focused on improving oral and written communications greatly alleviates the problem with a resultant improvement in Patient Safety.

A brief review of Irish Medical Negligence cases to include those reported throughout 2014 suggest a similar issue with communication in our own hospitals.

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