As many as 40,500 American adults may die in hospital intensive care units each year because their critical care teams didn't accurately diagnose their illnesses, according to a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine review of 30 international papers that examined autopsy results.
That's more people than die each year of breast cancer in the U.S. or from bloodstream infections acquired in the ICU, the researchers say. And many more patients suffer harm from care provided for the wrong condition.
"The bottom line is that these were misdiagnoses made by the ICU staff," says Bradford Winters, MD, associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and lead author of the paper.
"We hope this article is a wake-up call so people realize the impact this has," Winters adds.
He notes that most of the thrust of the articles the researchers reviewed "lament the lost art of the autopsy," because autopsies in hospitals or in coronor's offices have been steeply declining over the years, in part because of their expense.