Avoiding or correcting a diagnostic error first requires identification of an error and perhaps deciding to revise a diagnosis, but little is known about the factors that lead to revision. Three aspects of reflective practice, seeking Alternative explanations, exploring the Consequences of missing these alternative diagnoses, identifying Traits that may contradict the provisional diagnosis, were incorporated into a three-point diagnostic checklist (abbreviated to ACT).
Seventeen first and second year emergency medicine residents from the University of Toronto participated. Participants read up to eight case vignettes and completed the ACT diagnostic checklist. Provisional and final diagnoses and all responses for alternatives, consequences, and traits were individually scored as correct or incorrect. Additionally, each consequence was scored on a severity scale from 0 (not severe) to 3 (very severe). Average scores for alternatives, consequences, and traits and the severity rating for each consequence were entered into a binary logistic regression analysis with the outcome of revised or retained provisional diagnosis.
Only 13% of diagnoses were revised. The binary logistic regression revealed that three scores derived from the ACT tool responses were associated with the decision to revise: severity rating of the consequence for missing the provisional diagnosis, the percent correct for identifying consequences, and the percent correct for identifying traits (χ2 = 23.5, df = 6, p < 0.001). The other three factors were not significant predictors.
Decisions to revise diagnoses may be cued by the detection of contradictory evidence. Education interventions may be more effective at reducing diagnostic error by targeting the ability to detect contradictory information within patient cases.