Patients’ Experiences of Dental Diagnostic Failures: A Qualitative Study Using Social Media


Enihomo Obadan-Udoh, Rachel Howard, Luke Carmichael Valmadrid, Muhammad Walji, and Elizabeth Mertz

April 15, 2024

Objective: Despite the many advancements made in patient safety over the past decade, combating diagnostic errors (DEs) remains a crucial, yet understudied initiative toward improvement. This study sought to understand the perception of dental patients who have experienced a dental diagnostic failure (DDF) and to identify patient-centered strategies to help reduce future occurrences of DDF.

Methods: Through social media recruitment, we conducted a screening survey, initial assessment, and 67 individual patient interviews to capture the effects of misdiagnosis, missed diagnosis, or delayed diagnosis on patient lives. Audio recordings of patient interviews were transcribed, and a hybrid thematic analysis approach was used to capture details about 4 main domains of interest: the patient’s DDF experience, contributing factors, impact, and strategies to mitigate future occurrences.

Results: Dental patients endured prolonged suffering, disease progression, unnecessary treatments, and the development of new symptoms as a result of experiencing DE. Poor provider communication, inadequate time with provider, and lack of patient self-advocacy and health literacy were among the top attributes patients believed contributed to the development of a DE. Patients suggested that improvements in provider chairside manners, more detailed patient diagnostic workups, and improving personal self-advocacy; along with enhanced reporting systems, could help mitigate future DE.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates the valuable insight the patient perspective provides in understanding DEs, therefore aiding the development of strategies to help reduce the occurrences of future DDF events. Given the challenges patients expressed, there is a significant need to create an accessible reporting system that fosters constructive clinician learning.