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Study: Hospital Misdiagnoses Claim As Many Lives Each Year As Breast Cancer

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File photo of a hospital entrance.  (credit: Brad Wilson/GettyImages)

File photo of a hospital entrance. (credit: Brad Wilson/GettyImages)

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Baltimore, MD (CBSDC) – A new study, published online in BMJ Quality & Safety, says that many hospital patients die with an unknown medical condition that may have caused or contributed to their death.

The study additionally found that errors in the intensive care unit may claim as many lives each year as breast cancer.

“Our study shows that misdiagnosis is alarmingly common in the acute care setting,” Bradford Winters, lead author and associate professor of anesthesiology, critical care medicine, neurology and surgery in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a press release from the University.

The reported aim of the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality is first to eliminate preventable harm to patients and to achieve the best patient outcomes at the lowest possible cost, then to share knowledge of how to achieve this goal with the world.

The Institute reviewed studies that used autopsies to detect diagnostic errors. Researchers determined that one in four had at least one missed diagnosis at death.

“It may be counterintuitive to think that the patients who are the most closely monitored and frequently tested are more commonly misdiagnosed, but the ICU is a very complex environment,” Winters added in the press release.

Two John Hopkins’s physicians also reported that misdiagnoses accounts for an estimated 40,000 to 80,000 hospital deaths per year and that claims for diagnostic errors are nearly twice as common as claims for medication errors, in an article published in 2009.

“The first step in addressing the diagnostic error problem is to shine a light on them so they are clearly visible,” Dr. Peter Pronovost, vice president for Patient Safety and Quality and director of the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality said in a press release in March of 2009. “Then with wise investments, clinicians, researchers and patients can discover how to prevent them.”

The Armstrong Institute’s patient safety experts said the study points to the need for additional research to pinpoint the causes of misdiagnosis and identify tools to help diagnosticians more accurately assess patients.

“It may be counterintuitive to think that the patients who are the most closely monitored and frequently tested are more commonly misdiagnosed, but the ICU is a very complex environment,” Winters went on to add in the press release. “We need to develop better cognitive tools that can take into account the 7,000 or more pieces of information that critical care physicians are bombarded with each day to ensure we’re not ruling out potential diagnoses.”

The research was supported by a National Institute of Health training grant awarded to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

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