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Effect of contextual factors on the prevalence of diagnostic errors among patients managed by physicians of the same specialty: a single-centre retrospective observational study

Abstract

Background There has been growing recognition that contextual factors influence the physician’s cognitive processes. However, given that cognitive processes may depend on the physicians’ specialties, the effects of contextual factors on diagnostic errors reported in previous studies could be confounded by difference in physicians.

Objective This study aimed to clarify whether contextual factors such as location and consultation type affect diagnostic accuracy.

Methods We reviewed the medical records of 1992 consecutive outpatients consulted by physicians from the Department of Diagnostic and Generalist Medicine in a university hospital between 1 January and 31 December 2019. Diagnostic processes were assessed using the Revised Safer Dx Instrument. Patients were categorised into three groups according to contextual factors (location and consultation type): (1) referred patients with scheduled visit to the outpatient department; (2) patients with urgent visit to the outpatient department; and (3) patients with emergency visit to the emergency room. The effect of the contextual factors on the prevalence of diagnostic errors was investigated using logistic regression analysis.

Results Diagnostic errors were observed in 12 of 534 referred patients with scheduled visit to the outpatient department (2.2%), 3 of 599 patients with urgent visit to the outpatient department (0.5%) and 13 of 859 patients with emergency visit to the emergency room (1.5%). Multivariable logistic regression analysis showed a significantly higher prevalence of diagnostic errors in referred patients with scheduled visit to the outpatient department than in patients with urgent visit to the outpatient department (OR 4.08, p=0.03), but no difference between patients with emergency and urgent visit to the emergency room and outpatient department, respectively.

Conclusion Contextual factors such as consultation type may affect diagnostic errors; however, since the differences in the prevalence of diagnostic errors were small, the effect of contextual factors on diagnostic accuracy may be small in physicians working in different care settings.

  • diagnostic errors
  • patient safety
  • chart review methodologies

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. The data sets of the current study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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