Equally Deadly ICU Misdiagnosis

According to patient safety experts at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the number of preventable patient deaths attributable to misdiagnosis while in intensive care is equal to the number of patients who lose the battle with breast cancer each year. The big difference? One was actually diagnosed and the patient given a chance to fight for his or her life.

Autopsies that were conducted on patients who had died while in an intensive care unit (ICU) revealed that approximately one in four had at least one undiagnosed illness at the time of his or her death. Just less than 10 percent of the deceased patients with an undiagnosed ailment had something serious enough that it would have contributed to or caused the patient’s death.

An undiagnosed heart attack or stroke accounted for almost three of every four missed diagnoses that, had health care professionals correctly diagnosed the medical problem, could have saved the patient’s life. In addition to fatal heart attacks and strokes, medical events that were most commonly missed included:

  • Pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lungs)
  • Pneumonia
  • Aspergillus (a fungal infection)

The researchers concluded that ICU patients are two times more likely to suffer a fatal missed diagnosis than any other hospital patient.

How Does An ICU Misdiagnosis Happen?

It may make little sense that a fatal misdiagnosis is more likely to happen in an ICU given that patients in this type of unit are under constant care; vital signs are under consistently monitored by both nurses and hospital equipment. But, critical care physicians receive close to 7,000 pieces of medical information about each patient every day and, all too often, key indicators may be missed in the mass of information.

According to researchers, new tools are needed to filter the important medical information that doctors and medical staff receive on a daily basis.

Non-Fatal Misdiagnosis Is Not Without Consequences

A missed diagnosis that does not result in death can still have serious consequences for a patient, including:

  • An extended hospital stay
  • Additional, unnecessary medical testing may be ordered
  • Medication may be administered that does not get to the heart of the real medical issue
  • Unnecessary surgical procedures may be performed
  • Valuable time may be sacrificed when an incorrect diagnosis results in a delay in treatment.
  • An inappropriate course of treatment can lead to a diminished quality of life for a patient

If you have lost a loved one because a health care professional failed to make an accurate diagnosis, a medical malpractice attorney can explain your legal right to compensation for additional expenses, quality of life losses and wrongful death, depending on the specifics of your situation.

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