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Intensive Care Unit Errors — Study Confirms Correctable Problems

09/11/2012
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A read a very interesting article in the Atlantic highlighting the new Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study recently published in the British Medical Journal’s Quality and Safety Journal.

I must give these folks credit for the candor in what one could argue is an embarrassing finding for the medical community. Nonetheless, the challenging and unflattering research was still published. This study really focused on the ICU and some of the most common errors made in intensive care management.

Intensive Care Unit Room

The sad truth is that an estimated 40,000 patients may die each year from failure to properly diagnosis their conditions in the ICU. That is more than the number or people who die from breast cancer each year.

These deaths involve errors are discoverable and should be correctable. Errors in which solutions would save more lives this year without complicated and expensive new science being required.

Let’s hope it draws the needed attention. It really all boils down to lack of training and quality control. Many of us who know the medical field already know common conditions like heart attack and stroke are routinely misdiagnosed. This study proves it. The lead author, Dr. Bradford Winters, calls it “surprising and alarming”.

This study was an objective look at past literature, 31 different prior studies, as well autopsy results with confirmed diagnostic errors in adult ICU patients. Amazingly 1 in 4 (28%) had a missed diagnosis at the time of death and 8% of the time those errors are clearly linked to preventable deaths. Many times these were errors of omission, simply not doing the proper testing or ruling out of known conditions. The most common misdiagnosis were:

  • Heart attacks
  • Pulmonary Embolism
  • Pneumonia
  • Fungal infection ( Aspergillosis )

Bear in mind these mistakes were made in the ICU; the part of the hospital that typically holds the most experienced practitioners, as well as the patients’ supposedly receiving the greatest over sight and attention. Let’s hope the research and report does what the researchers intend it to do. Specifically, get the funding and attention needed in addressing ways to save lives right now with the very tools that already exist.

Kudos for bringing this to light. Realization is the first step to changing a culture of clutter, confusion, and error. Shame on hospital corporations if they do not view this as an opportunity.

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