Getting the right diagnosis at the right time is essential to high-quality health care. However, a 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine entitled “Improving Diagnosis in Health Care” noted that most of us will experience at least one diagnostic error in our lifetimes. These errors occur in all settings of care (including hospitals and medical offices), contribute to about 10 percent of patient deaths and are the leading type of paid medical malpractice claims.

A diagnostic error is defined as “the failure to establish an accurate and timely explanation of the patient’s health problem or to communicate that explanation to the patient.” When these errors occur, the unfortunate result is that you might not get the care you need when you need it, or you might get the wrong care altogether.

That’s why the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is focusing on diagnostic safety as the next frontier in our work to improve patient safety. AHRQ has already produced a toolkit to help primary care doctors track lab test results so that important information is available when it’s needed most. We’re working to build on that toolkit, and we’re working with national experts, doctors, nurses, patients and others to capture their best ideas about what additional research and tools should be our next priority.

Here’s what’s in view on the road ahead:

1. Understanding that if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it

We want to help the field get better at tracking and understanding diagnostic errors and make this information available where it matters most — in the hands of those on the front lines of care. We are working with collaborators, such as the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT in their work with the National Quality Forum to use research conducted by AHRQ and others and address measurement gaps in diagnostic accuracy.

2. Making health IT work to improve the diagnostic process

From information gathering, to helping doctors with the decision process, to learning from errors, health IT can be a powerful tool for improving diagnosis. For example, AHRQ-supported research is currently underway to better understand how natural language processing can be used to collect information within a patient’s electronic health record and present it in a more user-friendly way for the care team.

3. Engaging patients and families as part of the health care team

The popularity of patient portals and mobile health applications that collect patient-generated health data are getting patients more actively engaged in their care. These tools can also help clinicians gather information prior to diagnosis. AHRQ is supporting research on how best to collect and utilize patient-reported outcome data to improve the quality and safety of care, better integrating the patient perspective into clinical practice in ways that make sense to everyone who needs this important information.

That’s where you come in. At your next medical appointment, prioritize a list of questions and information for your health care provider. Make the most of your visit, and help your doctor make the right diagnosis for you.