New Center of Excellence Drives Change to Improve Diagnosis

Harrisburg, PA (June 14, 2018) –  Accurate and timely diagnoses communicated to all patients is the vision of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority's newly created Center of Excellence for Improving Diagnosis.

According to the National Academy of Medicine, most people will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime, sometimes with fatal outcomes. The toll of diagnostic error in the United States is estimated at 40,000 to 80,000 deaths a year.

Diagnostic errors have been occurring since the practice of medicine began, yet they have often been overlooked in the field of patient safety until recently, according to Rebecca Jones, Director of the Center of Excellence. "A concerted focus on this issue is long overdue and it is time to take action in Pennsylvania," she said.

The Center of Excellence will improve diagnosis by broadening awareness and knowledge about this complex topic; building partnerships and creating new networks between organizations; and inspiring healthcare providers and patients to work together and implement new solutions to strengthen the diagnostic process, according to Jones.

"The Center's efforts will focus on decreasing patient harm and death from diagnostic error," Jones said. "Ultimately, the patient is at the center of everything we do."

Patients are a crucial component of fixing the diagnostic error problem, according to Timothy Mosher, M.D., Physician Advisor for the Center of Excellence. "They are the people that recognize there is a problem, they are the ones who initiate contact with the healthcare system to make the diagnosis."

But that is often where the first breakdown occurs, according to Mosher. "Awareness by the patient of critical symptoms is one step; being able to accurately report or communicate the symptoms to the provider can help lead to an accurate diagnosis."

Patients need to take an active role and be their own advocate. "For example, if a patient had a CT (computed tomography) scan three weeks ago and hasn't heard anything, he or she should not assume the result was normal," he said. "Instead, the patient must follow up to get the results to be sure."

"Making a diagnosis may seem like it is black and white, but there is always an element of complexity," Mosher added. "Diagnosis is a process. If a patient is undergoing treatment and is not getting better, then they need to question if the diagnosis is wrong."

Jones hopes that the Center of Excellence will catalyze awareness and action throughout Pennsylvania, but she says the Center can't do it alone. "We are all patients; every single one of us can help to improve diagnosis by playing an active role as a contributing member of the healthcare team."

For more information about the Authority, patient safety topics, Advisory articles, and safety tips for patients, please visit patientsafety.pa.gov.

©2020 Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority