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Advances in Technology Aim to Prevent Misdiagnosis

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Advances in Technology Aim to Prevent Misdiagnosis


“stethoscope” by Dr.Farouk is licensed under CC BY 2.0

According to Medical News Today, approximately 12 million people in the United States are misdiagnosed in outpatient medical clinics each year, which is the equivalent of one in every 20 adult patients. Further, misdiagnosis can “severely harm” as many as six million patients annually. Being misdiagnosed can cause you serious health problems, and in some cases, early death. Fortunately, recent advances in technology have made diagnosing medical conditions much easier, and may lower your risk of being misdiagnosed considerably.

Electronic Health Records

One of the biggest ways medical facilities are using technology to help keep you safe is with the use of Electronic Health Records (EHRs). Electronic health records make it possible for doctors to look through information quickly in order to determine a patient’s condition. This is often difficult to do with paper records because information might be missing or scattered. As a result, some critical information needed to make a diagnosis may not be available.

EHRs make it easier for physicians to collaborate with one another on test results, which in turn can help with making an accurate diagnosis. Since many programs set up alerts for key diagnostic steps, they ensure that all the necessary testing is complete. That way, doctors can make a diagnosis based upon a full set of information.

Other ways EHRs help prevent misdiagnosis include:

  • Allowing nurses to implement checklists to use when treating patients
  • Providing for the standardization of certain screening tests
  • Enhancing communications between the doctor and patient
  • Preventing errors in the dispensing of medications

When electronic health records are implemented in a practice, it saves time and money in addition to increasing accuracy. In turn, this reduces the amount of stress physicians are under, enabling then to give you a more timely and accurate diagnosis.

Mining Missing Data

A number of health care systems are now engaged in the practice of scanning your electronic health records for signs of errors. Health records specialists take advantage of data mining to ensure the accuracy of health records, and to see that much-needed testing is completed in a timely manner. Some of the ways data mining has helped prevent misdiagnosis includes:

  • Searching databases for patients with abnormal test results for creatinine, which is an indicator of kidney disease
  • Finding people with abnormal prostate specific antigen (PSA) tests, encouraging them to have follow-up biopsies that might detect cancer
  • Double checking test results
  • Flagging records of patients with delays in treatment for prostate and colorectal cancers to ensure more timely treatment

According to Hardeep Singh, the chief of health policy and quality at a Veteran’s Administration medical center, data mining is “like finding a needle in a haystack”, in that it locates people who may have fallen through the cracks and ensures they are taken care of so that the odds of misdiagnosis is greatly reduced.

Personal Medical Scanner

Advances in technology are also making it easier than ever to use portable, hand-held devices to diagnose certain conditions. One that is designed for individual use is a medical tricorder, which is a handheld scanner designed to help you diagnose your own medical condition very quickly. To use it, all you need to do is hold the device against your forehead, and in only a few seconds you can have a reading of your:

  • Temperature
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate
  • Stress level

The device is also capable of performing an electrocardiogram and urine analysis as well. While not yet widely available, there are nonetheless several scientists who are currently working to make improvements to this device and make it widely available to the public. In doing so, they are hoping you’ll take readings often and be able to report unusual findings to your doctor sooner than ever.

Portable Diagnosing Devices

Advanced scanners are also becoming increasingly available for physicians to use. When undergoing surgery, chances are your doctor will use advanced imaging systems to see inside your body, thereby reducing the odds of error. Until recently, these advanced imaging systems were not widely available to primary care physicians, who are often the first ones charged with making a diagnosis. However, engineers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently developed a handheld scanning device designed especially for primary care physicians. The device relies on a technology similar to ultrasound, with the exception being that light is used to produce images rather than sound.

This newly-developed scanner enables doctors to perform some remarkable functions, a few of which are:

  • Obtaining images of all the body parts they wish to examine
  • Checking for bacterial colonies in areas such as the middle ear
  • Monitoring the thickness of retinas
  • Performing an early diagnosis of diabetes

Some devices are designed especially for use in a particular medical specialty. For example, dermatologists are now able to use a piece of equipment known as Melafind to help them examine moles that are as deep as 2.5 millimeters in order to check for cancer. Previously, you would have been required to have a biopsy tested at the lab, a process that could take several weeks in many cases. Not only does Melafind allow you to obtain results sooner, but the odds of your specimen being mishandled at the laboratory is eliminated as well.

Advanced Medical Testing Procedures

Advances in testing procedures now make it more likely you’ll obtain an accurate diagnosis for conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In the past, doctors relied on asking a series of questions of parents and caregivers concerning a child’s behavior, and then rating the answers on a scale. The result was that many children were misdiagnosed as having ADHD, and may have been unnecessarily medicated as a result.

Researchers have recently discovered that iron levels in the brain can be a potential indicator of ADHD. As such, determining brain iron levels could help you and your doctor make a more timely and accurate diagnosis so that medication can be avoided if possible. A simple blood draw is all that is needed in order to check brain iron levels.

Women have historically been at a higher risk of being misdiagnosed for heart disease than men. The effect of estrogen on the heart is thought to have been a leading cause for this trend. These days, you’re more likely to undergo advanced imaging in conjunction with a series of blood tests in order to determine your risk. CT scanning is designed to detect plaque buildup in the arteries, while blood tests are designed to measure a harmful protein known as CRP, which indicates inflammation in the arteries. The combination of these tests can detect heart disease up to 30 years earlier than a traditional stress test might, thereby reducing the odds of your heart condition being overlooked in the beginning.

Although advances in medical technology are reducing the number of misdiagnosis, the unfortunate fact remains that they still occur on a regular basis. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a medical misdiagnosis, you could be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering or even wrongful death. Your best bet is to contact a medical malpractice attorney for an assessment of your case so you can get started on the path to recovering your damages.

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