Defining the critical role of nurses in diagnostic error prevention: a conceptual framework and a call to action

Diagnosis (Berl). 2017 Nov 27;4(4):201-210. doi: 10.1515/dx-2017-0015.


Nurses have always been involved in the diagnostic process, but there remains a pervasive view across physicians, nurses, and allied health professionals that medical diagnosis is solely a physician responsibility. There is an urgent need to adjust this view and for nurses to take part in leading efforts addressing diagnostic errors. The purpose of this article is to define a framework for nursing engagement in the diagnostic process that can serve as a catalyst for nurses to engage in eliminating preventable harms from diagnostic error. We offer a conceptual model to formalize and expand nurses' engagement in the diagnostic process through education, maximize effectiveness of interprofessional teamwork and communication through culture change, and leverage the nursing mission to empower patients to become active members of the diagnostic team. We describe the primary barriers, including culture, education, operations, and regulations, to nurses participating as full, equal members of the diagnostic team, and illustrate our approach to addressing these barriers. Nurses already play a major role in diagnosis and increasingly take ownership of this role, removing barriers will strengthen nurses' ability to be equal, integral diagnostic team members. This model should serve as a foundation for increasing the role of the nurse in the diagnostic process, and calling nurses to take action in leading efforts to reduce diagnostic error.

Keywords: diagnostic error; interprofessional collaboration; nursing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Communication*
  • Diagnostic Errors / prevention & control*
  • Education, Nursing
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Nurse's Role*
  • Organizational Culture
  • Physicians