Analyzing diagnostic errors in the acute setting: a process-driven approach

Diagnosis (Berl). 2021 Aug 23;9(1):77-88. doi: 10.1515/dx-2021-0033.


Objectives: We describe an approach for analyzing failures in diagnostic processes in a small, enriched cohort of general medicine patients who expired during hospitalization and experienced medical error. Our objective was to delineate a systematic strategy for identifying frequent and significant failures in the diagnostic process to inform strategies for preventing adverse events due to diagnostic error.

Methods: Two clinicians independently reviewed detailed records of purposively sampled cases identified from established institutional case review forums and assessed the likelihood of diagnostic error using the Safer Dx instrument. Each reviewer used the modified Diagnostic Error Evaluation and Research (DEER) taxonomy, revised for acute care (41 possible failure points across six process dimensions), to characterize the frequency of failure points (FPs) and significant FPs in the diagnostic process.

Results: Of 166 cases with medical error, 16 were sampled: 13 (81.3%) had one or more diagnostic error(s), and a total of 113 FPs and 30 significant FPs were identified. A majority of significant FPs (63.3%) occurred in "Diagnostic Information and Patient Follow-up" and "Patient and Provider Encounter and Initial Assessment" process dimensions. Fourteen (87.5%) cases had a significant FP in at least one of these dimensions.

Conclusions: Failures in the diagnostic process occurred across multiple dimensions in our purposively sampled cohort. A systematic analytic approach incorporating the modified DEER taxonomy, revised for acute care, offered critical insights into key failures in the diagnostic process that could serve as potential targets for preventative interventions.

Keywords: DEER taxonomy; acute care; diagnostic error.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic Errors / prevention & control
  • Electron Spin Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors* / prevention & control