Checklists to prevent diagnostic errors: a pilot randomized controlled trial
Background: Many diagnostic errors are caused by premature closure of the diagnostic process. To help prevent premature closure, we developed checklists that prompt physicians to consider all reasonable diagnoses for symptoms that commonly present in primary care.
Methods: We enrolled 14 primary care physicians and 100 patients in a randomized clinical trial. The study took place in an emergency department (5 physicians) and a same-day access clinic (9 physicians). The physicians were randomized to usual care vs. diagnostic checklist. After completing the history and physical exam, checklist physicians read aloud a differential diagnosis checklist for the chief complaint. The primary outcome was diagnostic error, which was defined as a discrepancy between the diagnosis documented at the acute visit and the diagnosis based on a 1-month follow-up phone call and record review.
Results: There were 17 diagnostic errors. The mean error rate among the seven checklist physicians was not significantly different from the rate among the seven usual-care physicians (11.2% vs. 17.8%; p=0.46). In a post-hoc subgroup analysis, emergency physicians in the checklist group had a lower mean error rate than emergency physicians in the usual-care group (19.1% vs. 45.0%; p=0.04). Checklist physicians considered more diagnoses than usual-care physicians during the patient encounters (6.5 diagnoses [SD 4.2] vs. 3.4 diagnoses [SD 2.0], p<0.001).
Conclusions: Checklists did not improve the diagnostic error rate in this study. However further development and testing of checklists in larger studies may be warranted.
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