Mark Graber, M.D., president and founder of the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, addressed the record-breaking crowd on the topic of diagnostic error. Whether we are talking about humans or animals, there is the unfortunate reality that medical mistakes can be made, and sometimes those mistakes cost a person or an animal its life.
Graber said the number one concern of human patients is the possibility of diagnostic error, or the failure to establish accurate and timely explanation and treatment of a health problem. He shared that 40,000 to 80,000 human deaths per year are due to diagnostic errors.
He pointed out a few factors that raise the risk for error. Those include rare conditions or extremely common conditions that get overlooked; age or another ailment that masks symptoms and diverts attention away from the real problem; or the patients inability to communicate.
These same elements make diagnosis in veterinary medicine a challenge. Above and beyond that, large animal veterinarians are commonly working in less than ideal environmental conditions that can make accuracy even more difficult.
Graber admitted that it is hard to be right all the time considering the circumstances where medical decisions are made. “Diagnosis is hard!” he said. “It’s harder than rocket science.” He said that there are more than 12,000 diseases on the human side recognized by the World Health Organization. Plus, doctors must think and act quickly and deal with situations filled with many unknowns.
Still, the goal of Graber’s group and medical professionals everywhere is to limit the number of costly mistakes made. “We want to learn from these errors,” he said. “We want to get better.” One could bet that veterinarians and herdsmen working to care for and treat cattle every day would share those same sentiments.