(STUDY) 7 million errors in emergency departments per year

The following is an excerpt from Medpage Today.

An estimated 5.7% patients are misdiagnosed in the emergency department (ED) each year, representing about 7.4 million errors, 2.6 million harms, and more than 370,000 patients suffering permanent disability or death, according to a systematic review from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

A few of the main points from the systematic review:

  • Overall diagnostic accuracy in the emergency department (ED) is high, but some patients receive an incorrect diagnosis (~5.7%). Some of these patients suffer an adverse event because of the incorrect diagnosis (~2.0%), and some of these adverse events are serious (~0.3%). This translates to about 1 in 18 ED patients receiving an incorrect diagnosis, 1 in 50 suffering an adverse event, and 1 in 350 suffering permanent disability or death. These rates are comparable to those seen in primary care and hospital inpatient care.

  • We estimate that among 130 million emergency department (ED) visits per year in the United States that 7.4 million (5.7%) patients are misdiagnosed, 2.6 million (2.0%) suffer an adverse event as a result, and about 370,000 (0.3%) suffer serious harms from diagnostic error. Put in terms of an average ED with 25,000 visits annually and average diagnostic performance, each year this would be over 1,400 diagnostic errors, 500 diagnostic adverse events, and 75 serious harms, including 50 deaths per ED. Although overall error and harm rates are derived from three smaller studies conducted outside the United States (in Canada, Spain, and Switzerland, with combined n=1,758), study methods were prospective and rigorous. All three were conducted at university hospitals, and, for the two studies used to estimate harms, about 92 percent of clinicians under study at those institutions had full training or formal certification in emergency medicine.

  • Five conditions (#1 stroke, #2 myocardial infarction, #3 aortic aneurysm/dissection, #4 spinal cord compression/injury, #5 venous thromboembolism) account for 39 percent of serious misdiagnosis-related harms, and the top 15 conditions account for 68 percent. Variation in diagnostic error rates by disease are striking (range 1.5% for myocardial infarction to 56% for spinal abscess, with the other thirteen falling between 10% and 36%). Stroke, the top serious harm-producing disease, is missed an estimated 17% of the time. Among these 15 diseases, myocardial infarction is the only one with false negative rates near zero (1.5%), well below the estimated average rate across all diseases (5.7%).

  • For a given disease, nonspecific or atypical symptoms increase the likelihood of error. For stroke, dizziness or vertigo increases the odds of misdiagnosis 14-fold over motor symptoms (those with dizziness and vertigo are missed initially 40% of the time)

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2 thoughts on “(STUDY) 7 million errors in emergency departments per year”

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