Pediatricians report relatively frequent diagnostic errors

July 1, 2010

More than half of pediatricians report making a diagnostic error at least once or twice a month, a new study shows.

More than half of pediatricians report making a diagnostic error at least once or twice per month, according to a study published online June 21 in Pediatrics.

In this study, pediatricians (including academic, community, and trainee physicians) from 3 tertiary-care institutions and 109 affiliated clinics were surveyed anonymously through an online service between November 2008 and May 2009. Out of 1,362 survey invitations sent, 726 physicians completed the survey (53% response rate). Among these pediatricians, more than half (54%) reported making a diagnostic error at least once or twice per month; this percentage was considerably higher among trainees (77%). Nearly half (45%) of the respondents reported making a diagnostic error that harmed a patient at least once or twice per year. The most common process breakdown leading to diagnostic error was failure to gather information through a physical examination, history, or chart review. The most common diagnostic error was identifying a viral illness as a bacterial illness, followed by misdiagnosis of medication side effects, psychiatric disorders, and appendicitis.

The authors suggested that these findings "may provide concrete targets for future training and interventions to prevent diagnostic errors in children."