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Poor information processing is a source of medical errors

New York patients could miss important treatment opportunities when doctors fail to make accurate diagnoses. A medical crisis often starts with a visit to an emergency room, and a study has explored the class of medical mistakes known as cognitive errors. These involve the faulty processing of information by doctors when making diagnostic decisions. The study looked at repeat emergency room visits during an eight-month period at a public teaching hospital.

Of the 52 confirmed cases of errors that caused patients to return to the emergency room within 72 hours of their first visits, 45 percent arose from faulty information processing. Another 31 percent of mistakes happened because doctors did not verify diagnoses correctly. Errors when gathering patient information accounted for 18 percent of cognitive errors, and poor medical knowledge caused 6 percent of problems.

The lead investigator for the study said the errors were largely similar to the cognitive errors that occur in other hospital departments despite the pressures involved with emergency medicine. Emergency doctors typically had the right information but still interpreted it incorrectly. He recommended that physicians could avoid cognitive mistakes if they were well rested before work. When they see patients come in again right away, they should take more time to evaluate the symptoms and seek a second opinion from a colleague.

Although the law sets a high bar for proving medical negligence, a person harmed by a medical mistake could consult an attorney about the recovery of damages. An attorney could gain an independent medical evaluation of the person's case and offer an opinion about the likelihood of collecting compensation for injuries from medical malpractice. After assembling the evidence, an attorney could launch negotiations for a settlement or prepare to litigate the case.

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