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Misdiagnosis: a huge medical problem requiring more focus

Here's a central Catch-22 regarding a key aspect of medical care in Arizona and across the country, according to a doctor who recently wrote an article on care delivery for a national online media outlet.

On the one hand, notes Dr. Art Papier, good physicians are understandably keenly attuned to the medical diagnoses they make in every patient case. That is, the extensive professional training and innate empathy of caring doctors makes them deeply concerned that the diagnostic calls they are making are timely and accurate, with proper treatment being duly prescribed.

On the other hand, though, contends Papier, "there is surprisingly very little sustained effort in U.S. medical education and healthcare to improve physician thinking and decision-making." Medical misdiagnosis is troublingly common in facilities across the country, with the same mistakes often being repeated and not properly acknowledged in a manner that makes them amenable to close examination and avoidance in the future.

Papier references the case of one female patient who he saw after she was incorrectly diagnosed for cellulitis, a painful bacterial infection that can sometimes prove fatal -- for the third time. She was put into the hospital and prescribed IV antibiotics on each occasion.

Papier calls that patient matter and diagnostic outcome "yet another case of the correct therapy for the wrong diagnosis," given that the woman had an altogether different condition.

A recent report authored by the influential Institute of Medicine entitled "Improving Diagnosis in Health Care" readily notes that misdiagnosis is a fundamental problem in American medicine and that strong efforts must be made to combat it.

More testing and ever-greater reliance on high-tech assists is not what is needed to most improve diagnostic outlooks, notes the IOM. Rather, what the organization strongly recommends is closer -- more personal and meaningful -- interaction between doctors and patients, coupled with more time being spent on ensuring an accurate examination and a thorough medical history.

And mistakes must be noted, so that providers across the country can see where error is occurring and correct it.

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