More Than Half of Pediatricians Make Diagnostic Errors, Study Says

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Don't be afraid to ask your pediatrician questions or get a second opinion. Credit: Getty Images

Maybe it's time to rethink that age-old "doctor-is-god" stereotype.

Fifty-four percent of pediatricians say they make diagnostic errors at least once or twice per month, according to a new survey of more than 700 pediatricians and pediatric trainees.

The data for trainees was even more striking, with 77 percent admitting they make errors at least once or twice per month. And nearly half of the pediatricians surveyed say their errors harm patients at least once or twice per year.

However, according to Business Week, researchers did not ask the extent of the harm and said they didn't have enough information to gauge the seriousness of it. But the authors say previous research points to the existence of diagnostic errors in 32 percent of pediatric malpractice claims.

"These are perceptions and much more research has to be done to really delineate how often this happens," senior study author Dr. Geeta Singhal, of Baylor College of Medicine, tells Business Week.

Diagnostic errors typically include those that are delayed, wrong or missed, Business Week reports. Those detailed in the study involve a range of activities, from prescribing, dispensing and administering medications to surgery- and anesthesia-related activities that occur in the operating room.

The most frequent diagnostic error reported was viral illnesses being misidentified as bacterial illnesses, according to the study -- so stop feeling guilty for thinking your child's last bout with strep throat was just a cold. Other diagnostic errors frequently reported were the misdiagnosis of medication side effects, psychiatric disorders and appendicitis.

Pediatricians surveyed most often cited a failure to gather information through medical history, exam or chart review as the cause of errors. Other causes of misdiagnoses included failure of parents to seek care for their child in a timely manner, failure to follow up on abnormal lab tests and parents ignoring follow-up recommendations, Business Week reports.

Physicians say closer follow up of patients and improved teamwork between practitioners would decrease the likelihood of errors, as would improving access to information through electronic health records and diagnostic decision-support tools, according to the authors.

Singhal tells BusinessWeek that parents who are unsure of a diagnosis should be encouraged to ask for more information or seek a second opinion, since physicians are not always right.

"It's important to me as a pediatrician and as a mom to empower our patients and our families to ask good questions of their physicians," Singhal tells the magazine. "If they are not comfortable with the diagnosis, it's OK to ask the doctor to elaborate more or help them understand better."

Related: Oh, Baby: More Hospitals Asking for Payment Before Childbirth

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.