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Penn Today: To Reduce Medical Errors, Connect Doctors With Other Doctors

From Penn Today: Approximately 100,000 Americans die each year due to medical errors and recent studies have found that 10 to 15% of all clinical decisions regarding patient diagnosis and treatment are wrong. A team of researchers led by Damon Centola, professor and director of the Network Dynamics Group at the Annenberg School for Communication, has found a simple, effective way to reduce errors in patient diagnosis and treatment: use structured networks to connect clinicians with other clinicians. In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers shared results from a multiyear study involving nearly 3,000 doctors across the United States. The team found that when presented with a case study and asked to provide diagnosis and treatment recommendations for a patient, clinicians who were shown the diagnostic decisions of their peers on an anonymous basis, were on average twice as accurate in their recommendations than clinicians who made decisions on their own. Simply put, doctors make fewer errors when they have a support network. “The big risk with these information-sharing networks,” says Centola, who is the Elihu Katz Professor of Communication, Sociology, and Engineering, “is that while some doctors may improve, there could be an averaging effect that would lead better doctors to make worse decisions. But, that’s not what happens. Instead of regressing to the mean, there is consistent improvement: The worst clinicians get better, while the best do not get worse.” Over the course of several months, the researchers tested clinicians’ treatment and diagnostic decisions through an app that they built and distributed on Apple’s App Store specifically for this purpose. Read more at Penn Today.

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