As patients, we like to think diagnostic errors are rare, but the reality is they are fairly common. According to a recent Medscape poll, one in six physicians reported making diagnostic errors daily.

Aside from the ongoing risk to patient health and safety, diagnostic errors also pose a considerable financial threat, with one study suggesting they cost the U.S. economy $750 billion each year.

With quality of care and patient satisfaction top of mind for healthcare leaders, many healthcare organizations are realizing they need better processes in place to address the risk of diagnostic errors – and patient engagement must be part of the conversation.

According to research in Health Affairs, there are four areas in which poor clinical patient relations contributed to diagnostic errors:

  1. Patient knowledge was ignored
  2. Disrespect of patients
  3. Failure to communicate
  4. Manipulation or deception

Most diagnostic errors are unintentional—simply a byproduct of moving too quickly between patient visits, rather than from an intention to deceive. The best way to lower the likelihood of a misdiagnosis is to empower patients to play a larger role in their own care and make them feel comfortable to speak up about symptoms and status changes.

Six tips for improving patient engagement

While patient engagement should be an ongoing process, there are several steps healthcare organizations can take immediately.

  1. Put patients first. Healthcare providers need to understand any underlying issues that could lead to a negative experience or hold patients back from raising health concerns and symptoms. This means also making sure the patient’s family understands the diagnosis.
  2. Listen carefully. Doctors today have tight schedules and often must bounce back and forth between many patients. That said, it’s critically important to take the time to listen to a patient’s symptoms. While doctors, nurses, and physician assistants may have seen it all, it’s important to look at each patient as an individual and not make premature assumptions. The family also can offer valuable input in making an accurate diagnosis.
  3. Be supportive and engaging. Patients who feel respected and listened to in a healthcare environment are more likely to go into that hospital or clinic at the onset of their symptoms, which can make all the difference in catching a health issue before it turns into something more serious. This support also makes patients feel more empowered and in control throughout the entire process.
  4. Follow up frequently. Establish touchpoints where healthcare professionals and patients can openly communicate about test results. It’s important that the physician makes sure the patient truly understands the diagnosis by using layman’s terms instead of technical medical jargon.
  5. Collaborate as a team. Preventing misdiagnosis isn’t the job of just a single physician. Having a medical team work together to make sense of symptoms, understand test results, and catch any errors is crucial to making a correct diagnosis – the first time around.
  6. Leverage technology. The healthcare technology market is exploding. Take advantage of some of the new tools available. Patient-engagement portals, for example, which allow patients to read their physician’s notes, see past test results, view upcoming appointments, and more, are a great way to empower patients to take charge of their own health.

Healthcare organizations have one main objective: providing the best care to their patients. This includes doing everything possible to prevent misdiagnoses, which can not only be life-threating to patients, but can also result in serious legal and financial repercussions for healthcare providers and organizations.

For more on why patient engagement is a priority for the healthcare industry and how leaders are tackling these issues, check out the 2019 Annual Patient Safety and Quality Industry Outlook report, conducted by PSQH.