Misdiagnosis and medical miscommunication have human costs

May 13, 2013
Misdiagnosis and . . .

Re: Your article on misdiagnosis, “Missing the Mark” [May 7]:

I have been disabled 10 years from a failure to diagnose and from misdiagnosis. My experience has been that one doctor will find something in another doctor’s specialty and refer the patient. That doctor finds something in another’s specialty and tosses the patient there. Everyone is looking for some lab test to do the diagnosing for them.

Anna Gardiner, Falls Church

For over 25 years, I have been part of the team that developed DXplain, a computer-based diagnostic system that helps doctors connect symptoms with diagnoses. The big problem is getting doctors to recognize that they need such assistance.

Edward P. Hoffer, MD,  Boston

. . . miscommunication

Re: “Many doctors, too little communication” [April 30]:

My late husband was admitted to a hospital after two rounds of chemotherapy. Since no specific doctor was in charge, I had to beg one physician on duty to give my husband platelets when his level dropped dangerously low: “Sure,” he said, “why not?” Not one of the umpteen doctors had considered this as an alternative to imminent death.

Megan S. Smith, Flint Hill, Va.

My 73-year-old father recently died from a myriad of errors. What started as routine surgery turned into a nightmare of infections, incorrect medication, a fall resulting in a broken hip and shoulder, and more surgery. The problem is that no matter how much you ask questions about medications and procedures, hospitals won’t oblige.

Sandy Woods, Lorton

Your article offered a disturbing account of the consequences of frequent miscommunications in medical care, but it didn’t mention the most promising strategy to improve fragmented health care: health information technology.

The key to eliminating communication breakdowns is to document events so that information is accessible to the patients and all the health professionals involved, and to use that information to guide care in a consistent manner.

Electronic health records are now used in many health-care settings and have great potential, but they are suffering from growing pains: lack of compatibility among different hospital systems, privacy concerns and clinician resistance to burdensome data entry.

One didn’t need to look far from this article to find an example of a promising health technology. “Virtual pillbox for dementia patients” described a smartphone app for “caregivers to communicate with a patient or doctor and for multiple caregivers to communicate with each other.”

Michael Gerber, Arlington

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