NY Times – Why doctors get it wrong:

But we still could be doing a lot better. Under the current medical system, doctors, nurses, lab technicians and hospital executives are not actually paid to come up with the right diagnosis. They are paid to perform tests and to do surgery and to dispense drugs.

There is no bonus for curing someone and no penalty for failing, except when the mistakes rise to the level of malpractice. So even though doctors can have the best intentions, they have little economic incentive to spend time double-checking their instincts, and hospitals have little incentive to give them the tools to do so.

“You get what you pay for,” Mark B. McClellan, who runs Medicare and Medicaid, told me. “And we ought to be paying for better quality.”

Dr. RW begs to differ:

Although the Times article suggests that pay for performance and penalties for errors might solve the “crisis” the data suggest otherwise. Studies on Pay for Performance to date have failed to demonstrate improved quality. A spate of articles analyzing medical error indicates that promotion of a culture of blame by penalizing doctors for honest mistakes is counter productive.

The JAMA perspective is more nuanced: “However, it remains unclear to what extent clinically missed diagnoses represent errors per se, rather than acceptable limits of antemortem diagnosis in the face of atypical clinical presentations. In fact, because the vast majority of autopsy studies come from teaching hospitals, published autopsy series may be enriched for atypical cases.”


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