By Sandra G. Boodman, Kaiser Health News
Until it happened to him, Dr. Itzhak Brook, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Georgetown University School of Medicine, didn’t think much about the problem of misdiagnosis.
That was before doctors at a Maryland hospital repeatedly told Brook his throat pain was the result of acid reflux, not cancer. The correct diagnosis was made by an astute resident who found the tumor — the size of a peach pit — using a simple procedure. The experienced head and neck surgeons who regularly examined Brook had never tried it. Because the cancer had grown undetected for seven months, Brook was forced to undergo surgery to remove his voice box, a procedure that has left him speaking in a whisper. He believes that might not have been necessary had the cancer been found earlier.
“I consider myself lucky to be alive,” said Brook, now 72, of the 2006 ordeal, which he described at a recent international conference on diagnostic mistakes held in Baltimore. A physician for 40 years, Brook said he was “really shocked” by his misdiagnosis.
But patient safety experts say Brook’s experience is far from rare. Diagnoses that are missed, incorrect or delayed are believed to affect 10 to 20 percent of cases, far exceeding drug errors and surgery on the wrong patient or body part, both of which have received considerably more attention.
Recent studies underscore the extent and potential impact of such errors. To cite just two examples: Continue reading