In Kentucky hospital intensive care units (ICUs), medical personnel monitor and treat patients with the most severe, life-threatening illnesses and injuries. The doctors and critical care nurses responsible for these patients are highly trained and use state-of-the-art equipment to get their charges through health crises.

Sometimes, however, all this knowledge, skill, and training are to no avail, and patients die. Results of a study published in 2012 reveal that a disturbing number of ICU deaths are caused by conditions that were misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.

The Research Study

An article on the AARP website describes a study conducted by patient safety experts at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. The study’s author, Bradford Winters, is an associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine.

The researchers discovered that diagnostic errors are common in hospital ICUs. According to Dr. Winters, ICU doctors receive about 7,000 pieces of information each day to evaluate and act on. Winters likens this to “drinking from a fire hose.”

Here are some of the specific results of the study:

  • More than one-fourth (28 percent) of the patients who died in the ICU had at least one missed diagnosis.
  • An estimated 40,500 adult ICU patients die each year from an unknown medical condition.
  • More than a third of misdiagnoses are attributable to only five conditions.

Five Most Common Misdiagnoses

Following are the five conditions most commonly missed or misdiagnosed in ICUs:

  • Heart attack, which is often diagnosed as heartburn, gallbladder infection, or pulmonary embolism.
  • Pulmonary embolism, which may be confused with an asthma attack, pneumonia, bronchitis, or heart attack.
  • Pneumonia sometimes misdiagnosed as asthma or tuberculosis.
  • Aspergillosis, which may appear to be asthma, tuberculosis, acute respiratory distress, or a bacterial or viral infection.
  • Abdominal bleeding, which is difficult to diagnose because many ICU patients are weak from other conditions that may also produce the same blood pressure and heart rate fluctuations.

Implications of the Study

Finding ways to reduce incidences of misdiagnoses would lead to fewer unnecessary surgeries, lengthy hospital stays, and long-term disabilities. Despite these disturbing findings, however, the researchers pointed out that the topic of diagnostic errors receives relatively little attention and research funding.

If someone you love died in a Kentucky hospital ICU, and an autopsy revealed that the fatal condition was never correctly diagnosed, you need a Louisville wrongful death attorney. Call Gray and White Law at 502-210-8942 or toll free at 888-450-4456 to set up a FREE, no-obligation consultation.

Mark K. Gray
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Louisville attorney serving the seriously injured in Kentucky

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