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Report: Diagnostic errors too common in the U.S.

Medical professionals and health safety advocates will agree: misdiagnoses and delayed diagnoses happen all too often. One aspect of the problem, though, is that diagnostic errors are often cognitive errors on the part of doctors -- the mistakes happen in the doctors' minds -- and are therefore more difficult to pinpoint.

However, as a recent report from the Institute of Medicine makes clear, there are plenty of actions that medical professionals can take in order to prevent diagnostic errors.

According to the report, a major change that needs to occur is a cultural shift in the medical field. For example, doctors should avoid downplaying patients' complaints and not chastise or speak down to patients when they question the doctor's assumptions or assessment; nor should doctors be embarrassed to say that a colleague's diagnosis was wrong.

The Institute of Medicine also concluded that poor communication and information-sharing often result in misdiagnoses and delayed diagnoses. The institute recommends that doctors, nurses, lab workers and anesthesiologists adopt a team approach to better serve patients and meet their medical needs.

In fact, the recent report offered a conservative estimate of the number of patients who experience a diagnostic error each year. The researchers believe that at least 5 percent of adult patients who seek outpatient medical care are subjected to diagnostic mistakes. The problem is brought clearly into focus when you consider that diagnostic errors are nearly two times more likely to lead to a patient's death than other kinds of medical malpractice.

If you believe that an error in diagnosis has harmed you or a loved one, then don't hesitate to explain your situation to an experienced medical malpractice attorney. A lawyer with experience in this complex area of law can assess your case and explain your legal options.

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