Skip to the content

Misdiagnosis and treatment leads to unnecessary deaths

April 17th, 2008

One of the world's leading experts in human error in patient treatments has told a Monash University lecture that Australian doctors could be misdiagnosing patient conditions in at least 20 per cent of cases.

Visiting Canadian doctor and Dalhousie University researcher, Professor Pat Croskerry presented his controversial research findings as part of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences Dean's Lecture Series.
Professor Croskerry said more needs to be done to teach doctors how to improve their cognitive skills, emergency responses and critical thinking to avoid making fatal mistakes.

"The reasoning behind patient diagnoses is the most critical of a physician's skills. Yet the rate at which doctors fail in this aspect of clinical performance is surprisingly high," Professor Croskerry said.

"Autopsy findings have consistently shown a 20 per cent discrepancy rate with the pre-death diagnosis and a third of these autopsies would not be taking place if the true diagnosis had been known. In some cases where there is existing uncertainty in diagnoses, the discrepancy rate can be higher."

Professor Croskerry has identified 30 types of human ‘cognitive errors’ or failures in the thinking and behavioural processes of doctors which directly contribute to misdiagnosis and treatment.

"Heading the list are communication problems among doctors, doctors and staff or patients. Other well-documented systematic factors include sleep deprivation and shift work," Professor Croskerry said.

"In addition to environmental factors, there are behavioural and mental processes which affect a doctor's ability to think clearly and critically, reason, decide and diagnose under pressure. Their minds and cognitive skills also need training to deal with the extreme circumstances they often find themselves in."

Professor Croskerry has developed a model which he believes could eliminate some of the inaccuracies of patient diagnoses.

Professor Pat Croskerry

Professor Pat Croskerry

A video of Professor Croskerry's lecture is coming to this page soon.

For media enquiries, contact Senior Media Officer Samantha Blair on 9903 4841.