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New IOM Report Highlights Importance of Making the Right Diagnosis

September 22, 2015

In continuation of their Quality Chasm Series, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has released a new report "Improving Diagnosis in Healthcare." An expert Committee on Diagnostic Error in Health Care, which included Carolyn Clancy, MD, VA's Chief Medical Officer and former interim Under Secretary for Health, synthesized what is known about diagnostic error and proposed recommendations to improve the diagnostic process. Accurately diagnosing patients is critical to providing appropriate treatment that leads to optimal outcomes; however, most people will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime. The IOM Report also finds that diagnosis – and diagnostic errors – has been largely overlooked in efforts to improve the quality and safety of healthcare. The Committee defines diagnostic error as "the failure to (a) establish an accurate and timely explanation of the patient's health problem(s), or (b) communicate that explanation to the patient." The Committee outlines eight goals to help improve the diagnostic process, thereby reducing errors (e.g., facilitate effective teamwork, enhance education and training in the diagnostic process, and ensure health information technologies support the process); their recommendations are linked to each of these goals.

HSR&D investigator Hardeep Singh, MD, MPH, part of HSR&D's Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety based at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, TX, testified before the IOM Committee and was an invited expert reviewer for this Report. "Improving Diagnosis in Healthcare," which drew heavily upon previous patient safety research by the Houston-based team, contributes significantly to the growing momentum for change in this crucial area of healthcare quality and safety.