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Study: ICU patients face a greater risk of misdiagnosis

Unfortunately, many people in Ohio and the rest of the United States die each year when physicians fail to correctly diagnose the symptoms of heart attack or another life-threatening condition. What’s even scarier is that a new study suggests that the most vulnerable patients — those in the ICU — may be especially at risk of misdiagnosis.

The study, out of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, revealed that as many as 40,500 ICU patients may die each year in the United States when clinicians fail to diagnose serious underlying conditions such as a heart attack or stroke. Researchers also concluded that these serious misdiagnoses were 50 percent more likely to occur in the ICU compared to the general hospital.

The lead author of the study said researchers examined 31 past studies on the subject conducted between 1966 and 2011. He said it was determined that one in four ICU patients had a missed diagnosis at the time of their death. In 8 percent of these cases, the misdiagnosis was serious enough to have caused or contributed to the death, the lead author said.

The lead author called the findings “surprising and alarming,” as ICUs care for the sickest and most vulnerable patients. He said that both hospital-acquired infected and medication errors have been pinpointed as preventable errors that are common in ICUs, where clinicians are focused on other serious injuries or illnesses.

In providing further explanation, the lead author said that many of the misdiagnoses were errors or omission, or “not something you did, but something you didn’t do.” He said this is fairly ironic because ICU patients are the most closely-monitored in the hospital. However, because there are so many symptoms being monitored, something as simple as a heart attack may go unnoticed, he said.

The lead author said he hopes more studies are conducted on the topic so that hospitals can make improvements for preventing misdiagnosis in ICUs.

Source : The Atlantic, “The Alarming Rate of Errors in the ICU,” Cristine Russell, Aug. 28, 2012