Emergency room personnel at Ohio hospitals expect to see people in significant medical distress. Their patients depend on them during stressful or even frightening events. Despite emergency workers’ experience treating people with life-threatening conditions, a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that physicians misdiagnosed 6% of emergency patients.
Over one-third of misdiagnoses dangerous
The report analyzed hundreds of studies of emergency medical systems. Among mistaken diagnoses that led to harm, 39% of the cases involved physicians missing:
- Venous thromboembolism
- Spinal cord injury
- Aortic aneurysm or tear
- Myocardial infarction
Emergency rooms set the course of treatment
The primary purpose of an emergency department is to address the most immediate medical crises of the patients. Stabilizing a patient’s condition may require diagnosing the source of the problem first, but often emergency physicians search for the cause after averting death or disaster. They typically recommend patients seek additional care, but any diagnoses made in the emergency department will inform the efforts of the next physician. In this way, a medical error could perpetuate itself and delay correct treatment for a patient. Additionally, treatments given based on the misdiagnosis can worsen a patient’s health.
Over 2 million harmed across two decades
According to the review of available data, studies conducted between January 2000 and September 2021 accounted for 2.6 million people who were harmed due to emergency department misdiagnoses. Researchers classified their medical harms as preventable.
Symptoms outside of the most common symptoms for a condition seemed to cause health care personnel to miss major problems. For example, people complaining of dizziness or vertigo were less likely to have their strokes detected on the first exam.