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Study: Time restraints cause missed diagnoses in primary care

The failure to diagnose a serious condition can threaten a patient’s chances of succesful treatment. Research shows that mistakes occurring at primary care clinics are some of the most common causes of misdiagnoses in patients. A new study published online in JAMA Internal Medicine looked into how and why these diagnostic mistakes occur.

One of the primary conclusions made by the study is that most diagnostic errors in primary care facilities are related to the basic elements of the office visit, including errors during the physical exam or medical history-taking, referral decisions, and miscommunications between doctors and patients.

A major issue that compounds these mistakes, the study found, is that primary care office visits today are often under time constraints, which can prevent care providers from discovering serious health issues. The lead author of the study said the findings show how time squeezes often result in diagnostic errors occurring during the main part of the office visits as doctor-patient dialogue is getting shorter and shorter.

“In general, we’re talking less to patients, and those skill sets and techniques of getting the history and the examination of the patient are going a bit downward,” said the lead author. Another doctor involved with the study agreed, explaining that office visits that are shorter and less focused often lead to missed diagnoses.

Experts in the medical field say that doctors need to be aware of their potential for missed diagnoses caused by time constrains. One of the ways to do this is by following up on patient outcomes to see if a missed diagnosis occurred so doctors can figure out how to prevent it from happening again.

Of course, another way doctors learn of their missed diagnoses is through medical malpractice lawsuits. These lawsuits require doctors to take full responsibility for putting patients in danger because of time restraints or other errors.

Source:, “Primary care time squeeze explains errors in diagnosis,” Kevin B. O’Reilly, March 11, 2013