Millions of Patients Misdiagnosed in the ER Annually

One in 18 emergency department patients receive an incorrect diagnosis, and 1 in 350 suffer permanent disability or death as a result of the error, a new study reveals.

Research estimates that among 130 million emergency department (ED) visits per year in the US, 7.4 million (5.7%) patients are misdiagnosed, 2.6 million (2.0%) suffer an adverse event as a result, and about 370,000 (0.3%) suffer serious harms from diagnostic error.

The study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University researchers in partnership with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality examined the data from three smaller studies conducted in Europe’s and Canada’s university hospitals.

The study authors highlight that overall diagnostic accuracy in the ER remains high.

Researchers found that people more often receive misdiagnosis if they experience atypical symptoms. For example, in stroke patients, dizziness or vertigo increases the odds of diagnostic error 14-fold over motor symptoms.

In addition, being female and non-White increases the risk of misdiagnosis by 20–30%. These findings echo the previous studies, showing that female patients, especially women of color, feel gaslighted at the doctor’s office.

For example, women with chest pain, a common heart attack symptom, are less likely than men to undergo electrocardiography or be admitted to the hospital.

According to the John Hopkins University study, five conditions — stroke, myocardial infarction, aortic aneurysm/dissection, spinal cord compression or injury, and venous thromboembolism — account for 39 percent of serious misdiagnosis-related harms.

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