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A recent study suggests approximately 250,000 people die each year due to Emergency department (ED) misdiagnosis.

The study is a systematic review funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.  Researchers reviewed studies from research databases between January 2000 and September 2021 to identify conditions associated with misdiagnosis, common factors, and impacts. Studies in the review included those from Canada and European countries.

Main points of the findings shed light on the types of conditions more frequently misdiagnosed and error rates, including the following:

  • The study estimates there are 130 million ED visits each year in the US.  Of these, researchers suggest approximately 5.7 percent (7.4 million) are misdiagnosed, with 2.6 million resulting in adverse events, and an estimated 370,000 patients who suffer serious harm from the error.
  • Misdiagnosis is more likely to occur when a patient presents with symptoms not considered typical.  An example provided was a patient suffering a stroke who presents with vertigo or dizziness.
  • Being a woman or a person of color appeared to increase the risk of misdiagnosis.  Age impacted misdiagnosis as well.  Older patients were more likely to be misdiagnosed if they suffered appendicitis, while younger patients were less likely to be correctly diagnosed with a stroke.
  • The top five clinical conditions most likely to be misdiagnosed were stroke, heart attack, aortic aneurysm and dissection, spinal cord injury and compression, and venous thromboembolism (deep vein blot clot). Other misdiagnosed conditions include meningitis, encephalitis, sepsis, lung cancer, and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
  • Overall contributors to misdiagnosis include lack of knowledge, skill, cognitive error, and presentation of atypical symptoms. These causal factors are those most likely to result in malpractice claims across the healthcare practice spectrum—not just the ED.

Critics of the study point to a potential skewing of the harm and error rates, which were developed through review of three smaller studies that used data from Canada, Switzerland, and Spain—not the US. The gap in ED error rate studies in the US was acknowledged by study author, Dr. Susan Peterson.  She notes, “We need studies done in the United States. It’s a huge gap in the literature.”

Despite the figures, given the number of patients, the rate of ED misdiagnosis is considered low.  In addition to calling for further study, researchers suggested standardizing measurement of diagnostic error, creating a national performance database, and increasing policy support of solutions to address misdiagnosis in ED and clinical settings.

If you, or a family member, are seriously injured due to misdiagnosis, speak with a member of our legal team.

Award winning injury attorneys help after you suffer medical malpractice

Schochor, Staton, Goldberg, and Cardea, P.A. is an established law firm representing patients injured through medical error.  If you suffer serious harm due to a medication or other medical error, we can help. Contact us or call 410-234-1000 to schedule a free consultation.  We have offices in Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland.