Study: 7.4 million patients are misdiagnosed in US emergency rooms each year

An Emergency Medical Team from a Long Island hospital take in a patient to the emergency room of the Elmhurst Hospital Center on April 06, 2020 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

A new study revealed that nearly one in 18 patients receive an incorrect diagnosis while visiting an emergency room in the U.S. each year. 

The study was recently published by the Department of Health and Human Services. Researchers said they studied medical data from January 2000 through September 2021.

The study’s authors noted that diagnoses are often accurate, but each year, 5.7% of patients receive the wrong diagnosis. As a result, 2% of those patients suffer an adverse effect and about .3% of that is serious. 

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That translates to one in 50 suffering an adverse effect, and 1 in 350 suffering permanent disability or death.

To put it another way, researchers estimated of the 130 million emergency department visits per year in the U.S., 7.4 million patients are misdiagnosed, 2.6 million suffer an adverse effect, and about 370,000 suffer serious harm.

Stroke, myocardial infarction, aortic aneurysm/dissection, spinal cord compression/injury, and venous thromboembolism account for 39% of harms related to a misdiagnosis. 

The study noted that errors in diagnosis are lower in academic/teaching hospitals, but it’s not known if that is because of the availability of diagnostic technology. 

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Researchers concluded while misdiagnosing is not a huge problem within the medical field, it’s nevertheless concerning because it can have a profound impact on patients. 

"Not all diagnostic errors or harms are preventable, but wide variability in diagnostic error rates across diseases, symptoms, and hospitals suggests improvement is possible," the study reported. 

To help prevent more cases, the study suggests that future policy should be designed to track misdiagnoses on the national level and a plan to immediately help patients that suffer harm.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.