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ICU no guarantee of superior care

Patients assigned to the Intensive Care Unit of Pennsylvania hospitals anticipate superior care and constant attention to their medical plight. However, a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine analysis indicates that up to 40,000 or more patients die every year from failure to diagnose issues in U.S. ICUs.

The lead author of the research categorizes the strong frequency of "deadly misdiagnosis" both "surprising and alarming." Analyzing 31 different research projects and studies, from 1966 through 2011, the volume of diagnostic mistakes, confirmed by patient autopsies, indicated that over 25 percent of ICU patients endured misdiagnosis, which caused or contributed to their deaths.

Disturbingly, the Johns Hopkins study revealed that failure to diagnose properly may occur in as many as 50 percent more instances as with general hospital patients. Statistics already show that around one-half of all fatalities happen in hospitals and approximately half of those deaths occur while patients are in ICUs. While not initially surprising, as ICU patients are usually in critical conditions, almost ten percent of these fatalities may come from diagnostic errors.

Although ICUs and their personnel are noted for their life-saving successes, research indicates there are also an alarming number of "preventable hazards," from which patients succumb. Infections that are hospital-generated, medication mistakes and errors of omission appear to be major contributors to these fatalities.

In some cases, the sheer volume of information bombarding ICU personnel, up to 7,000 pieces of information daily, may be creating the probability of error. Yet, the very ill patients assigned to ICUs still deserve the extra attention that should recognize the components of their condition, generating more intense and accurate treatment.

Do you empathize with ICU personnel, but also feel they need to be more diligent in their patient evaluation and treatment? Should more focus be concentrated on proper diagnosis of primary or ancillary medical problems of ICU patients?

Source: The Atlantic, "The Alarming Rate of Errors in the ICU," Cristine Russell, Aug. 28, 2012

Medical errors such as the failure to diagnose can lead to serious consequences including death. We handle cases that arise out of the type of issues discussed in this post. For more information on these types of claims, please visit our Pittsburgh failure to diagnose page.

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