Background: Failure or delay in diagnosis is a common preventable source of error. The authors sought to determine the frequency with which high-information clinical findings (HIFs) suggestive of a high-risk diagnosis (HRD) appear in the medical record before HRD documentation.
Methods: A knowledge base from a diagnostic decision support system was used to identify HIFs for selected HRDs: lumbar disc disease, myocardial infarction, appendicitis, and colon, breast, lung, ovarian and bladder carcinomas. Two physicians reviewed at least 20 patient records retrieved from a research patient data registry for each of these eight HRDs and for age- and gender-compatible controls. Records were searched for HIFs in visit notes that were created before the HRD was established in the electronic record and in general medical visit notes for controls.
Results: 25% of records reviewed (61/243) contained HIFs in notes before the HRD was established. The mean duration between HIFs first occurring in the record and time of diagnosis ranged from 19 days for breast cancer to 2 years for bladder cancer. In three of the eight HRDs, HIFs were much less likely in control patients without the HRD.
Conclusions: In many records of patients with an HRD, HIFs were present before the HRD was established. Reasons for delay include non-compliance with recommended follow-up, unusual presentation of a disease, and system errors (eg, lack of laboratory follow-up). The presence of HIFs in clinical records suggests a potential role for the integration of diagnostic decision support into the clinical workflow to provide reminder alerts to improve the diagnostic focus.