WASHINGTON – Today, the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) released a comprehensive report on patient harm caused by diagnostic error that outlines the scope of this serious issue as well as potential solutions. AACC strongly supports the report’s findings that cohesive communication between all members of the healthcare team could help reduce these errors—a goal to which AACC and its members, laboratory medicine professionals, have long been committed.
Diagnostic tests play a critical role in ensuring that patients receive high quality medical care. These tests provide precise information that helps physicians make treatment decisions about conditions ranging from cancer and heart disease to diabetes and infectious diseases. However, mistakes that occur during the diagnostic process can have serious consequences. The report finds that diagnostic errors contribute to approximately 10% of patient deaths, and most people will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime.
AACC believes that one of the report’s most powerful recommendations for reducing these errors—and one that deserves more prominence—is the call to improve how doctors and nurses work with the healthcare professionals who run diagnostic testing in the lab. The field of diagnostic testing is growing at an incredible rate, with recent advances in DNA, RNA, and protein testing adding more complexity to an already enormous catalogue of available tests. Because doctors and nurses have the daunting task of keeping pace with general medical knowledge, the expertise of laboratory medicine professionals is critical to help ensure that the most effective tests are ordered for patients, and that the test results are interpreted and used appropriately.
Laboratory medicine professionals specialize in clinical laboratory tests—tests that analyze blood, urine, or other bodily fluids—and have been forerunners in the effort to improve patient safety through collaboration. One example of this is the lab at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, which established several diagnostic management teams to help doctors diagnose patients more quickly and accurately by providing lab expertise on what tests to order and how to interpret the results. As of 2014, this program had improved genetic testing to ensure that patients receiving Plavix (a drug used to prevent blood clots after a recent heart attack or stroke) will respond to it and had reduced the number of days pulmonary embolism patients had to stay in the hospital. These and other diagnostic improvements brought on by increased collaboration between clinicians and the lab not only enhance patient outcomes but also save Vanderbilt $3 million annually.
“AACC strongly supports initiatives to improve patient care by reducing diagnostic errors and the cost, suffering, and loss of life that stems from these errors. We fully agree with the National Academies that taking a team approach to the diagnostic process is central to accomplishing this goal, and laboratory medicine professionals will be a key player on any successful team,” said AACC President David D. Koch, PhD. “Laboratory medicine professionals hold a wealth of knowledge on clinical tests and, if involved more in day-to-day clinical consulting, can provide vital insight to help physicians find better, faster, and more precise answers to challenging patient health problems.”
Dedicated to achieving better health through laboratory medicine, AACC brings together more than 50,000 clinical laboratory professionals, physicians, research scientists, and business leaders from around the world focused on clinical chemistry, molecular diagnostics, mass spectrometry, translational medicine, lab management, and other areas of progressing laboratory science. Since 1948, AACC has worked to advance the common interests of the field, providing programs that advance scientific collaboration, knowledge, expertise, and innovation. For more information, visit www.aacc.org.