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Obermeyer Z, Cohn B, Wilson M, et al. BMJ. 2017;356:j239.
The emergency department is considered a high-risk setting for diagnostic errors. This analysis of Medicare claims data found that a significant number of adults age 65–89 died within a week of visiting and being discharged from an emergency department, even when no life-limiting illness was noted. Hospitals that admit a lower proportion of emergency department patients to the inpatient setting had a higher mortality rate among discharged patients, even after adjusting for patient characteristics. Consistent with prior studies relating patient outcomes to volume, higher-volume emergency departments had lower 7-day mortality among discharged patients. These results suggest that emergency department discharges may represent missed diagnoses. A WebM&M commentary discussed an incident involving a patient who died after being discharged from the emergency department.
Murff HJ, FitzHenry F, Matheny ME, et al. JAMA. 2011;306:848-55.
Many adverse event identification methods cannot detect errors until well after the event has occurred, as they rely on screening administrative data or review of the entire chart after discharge. Electronic medical records (EMRs) offer several potential patient safety advantages, such as decision support for averting medication or diagnostic errors. This study, conducted in the Veterans Affairs system, reports on the successful development of algorithms for screening clinicians' notes within EMRs to detect postoperative complications. The algorithms accurately identified a range of postoperative adverse events, with a lower false negative rate than the Patient Safety Indicators. As the accompanying editorial notes, these results extend the patient safety possibilities of EMRs to potentially allow for real time identification of adverse events.
Mamede S, van Gog T, van den Berge K, et al. JAMA. 2010;304:1198-1203.
Diagnostic errors are frequently ascribed to cognitive errors on the part of clinicians. Prominent among these is availability bias, when clinicians choose the most available diagnosis—the first that comes to mind—when faced with a complex diagnostic scenario. In this Dutch study, internal medicine residents were presented with a series of diagnosed cases, then given cases with similar symptoms and asked to record their provisional diagnoses. The investigators did find evidence of availability bias, but also found that asking residents to reflect on their diagnostic process mitigated the effects of availability bias. Diagnostic errors have been termed the next frontier in patient safety, and an AHRQ WebM&M commentary discusses reflective practice and other methods of avoiding cognitive error in diagnosis.