In many hospital intensive care units, ICUs, the number of missed diagnoses may be as high as 25 percent for the patients who die. The John Hopkins University School of Medicine published a study, which indicated that as many as 40,500 patients considered critically ill die each year when doctors in the ER miss life-threatening conditions. This includes instances of strokes and heart attacks. Surprisingly, this figure is higher than the number of people who die from breast cancer each year.
The researchers found that around one in four, or about 28 percent, of adult patients in the ICU had a missed diagnosis at the time for their death. Of those patients, the researchers found that 8 percent of those missed diagnoses contributed to the death of the individual.
General Hospital Settings
When compared to a traditional general hospital patient (rather than one admitted to the intensive care unit), ICU misdiagnoses occur about 50 percent more often. Further, the study looked at deaths overall. In the U.S., the study indicated that about half of all deaths happen in hospitals. Half of the deaths occurring in hospitals happen in the ICU or immediately following a stay in these wards.
Of the ICU deaths, the study indicates as many as 40,500 may result from major diagnostic failures. Reportedly, about 540,000 deaths occur annually in ICUs throughout the country.
What Is Missed?
The most common diagnoses missed include heart attacks, pulmonary embolisms, pneumonia and deadly fungal conditions specifically targeting those with a weakened immune system. The lead author of the study noted that, in many instances, if the physician on the case had made a diagnosis “in a timely manner,” the patient might have received a different course of treatment and death might have been prevented.
Source: The Atlantic, “The Alarming Rate of Errors in the ICU,” Cristine Russell, August 28, 2012.
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