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Diagnostic Errors Found in 1 of 4 ICU Patient Deaths

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, August 28, 2012

The researchers examined 31 studies that described 5,863 autopsies in about 12 countries including Brazil, France, Germany, and Slovenia. While these autopsy reports found that 28% of patients had at least one missed diagnosis, in 8% of the cases, the error was serious enough to be a cause of death.

For those studies of autopsies performed on patients who died in U.S. ICUs, between 22,600 and 40,500 adults may have died due to a missed diagnosis.

Medical conditions most commonly missed also included heart attack and pneumonia. Combined with aspergillosis and pulmonary embolism, these four conditions accounted for one-third of missed illnesses.

Winter says that correcting the problem of inaccurate diagnosis isn't easy, and may require technological improvements or upgrades with equipment that isn't yet available or approved. 

Better algorithms to square conflicting test results that may point to different diagnoses – for example a troponin enzyme level could mean a heart attack or it could mean renal failure or a PE.

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