Johns Hopkins study documents vast extent of ICU diagnosis errors

When a patient is in critical condition and needs urgent medical oversight, hours or days spent in the intensive care unit can be a terribly stressful time for family members. When that person’s condition worsens due to an unknown medical condition as time slips away, loved ones may stand by feeling helpless and frustrated.

A recent study from the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that more than 40,000 critically ill patients die in the U.S. every year due to misdiagnosis. To put this number in perspective, the authors note that ICU misdiagnosis fatalities are roughly equal to the yearly number of American deaths due to breast cancer.

The study looked at nearly 6,000 autopsies and categorized critical health misdiagnosis under four categories: vascular conditions, infections, organ malfunctions and cancer/other diseases. The types of medical conditions most frequently misdiagnosed by ICU doctors were heart attacks, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia and a type of fungal infection called aspergillosis.

“Our study shows that misdiagnosis is alarmingly common in the acute care setting,” said lead author Bradford Winters, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins in a press release. He noted that other, less lethal risks to patient safety have received much more attention from previous studies.

The study concludes that one of every four patients who die in the ICU have at least one condition that was not properly diagnosed. A lawyer can explain whether a suspected case of misdiagnosis in any health care setting, from delayed cancer diagnosis to failure to detect infections or properly assess a brain aneurysm, may be subject to a medical malpractice action due to a prolonged illness or wrongful death.

Medical Error


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