Background: Although health care organizations (HCOs) are intensely focused on improving the safety of health care, efforts to date have almost exclusively targeted treatment-related issues. The literature confirms that the approaches HCOs use to identify adverse medical events are not effective in finding diagnostic errors, so the initial challenge is to identify cases of diagnostic error. WHY HEALTH CARE ORGANIZATIONS NEED TO GET INVOLVED: HCOs are preoccupied with many quality- and safety-related operational and clinical issues, including performance measures. The case for paying attention to diagnostic errors, however, is based on the following four points: (1) diagnostic errors are common and harmful, (2) high-quality health care requires high-quality diagnosis, (3) diagnostic errors are costly, and (4) HCOs are well positioned to lead the way in reducing diagnostic error. FINDING DIAGNOSTIC ERRORS: Current approaches to identifying diagnostic errors, such as occurrence screens, incident reports, autopsy, and peer review, were not designed to detect diagnostic issues (or problems of omission in general) and/or rely on voluntary reporting. The realization that the existing tools are inadequate has spurred efforts to identify novel tools that could be used to discover diagnostic errors or breakdowns in the diagnostic process that are associated with errors. New approaches--Maine Medical Center's case-finding of diagnostic errors by facilitating direct reports from physicians and Kaiser Permanente's electronic health record--based reports that detect process breakdowns in the followup of abnormal findings--are described in case studies.
Conclusion: By raising awareness and implementing targeted programs that address diagnostic error, HCOs may begin to play an important role in addressing the problem of diagnostic error.