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Medical misdiagnosis rates are higher in an emergency room (ER) or intensive care unit (ICU) as opposed to a misdiagnosis made in the office of a primary care physician, according to a study on Patient Safety Incidents (PSI) by The majority of misdiagnosis lawsuits involve an ER misdiagnosis.

Medical misdiagnosis/failure to diagnose rates for the ER and ICU are higher because of the need to provide a diagnosis in a short amount of time in a chaotic environment. The most common misdiagnosed conditions in the ER include:

  • Heart attack misdiagnosis
  • Stroke misdiagnosis
  • Pulmonary embolism misdiagnosis
  • Meningitis misdiagnosis
  • Appendicitis misdiagnosis

In addition to time sensitivity, ER staff may also be likely to misdiagnose a condition if they feel the patient is unlikely to be suffering from that particular condition. For example, failure to diagnose a heart attack may be more likely with a young person, who would not normally be at a high risk for suffering a heart attack.

Failure to diagnose a heart attack may also occur if the ECG test is wrong. Many physicians rely too heavily on ECG results, according to, a division of

When a patient presents to the ER, he or she is in urgent need of medical care. A medical misdiagnosis in the ER may prevent the patient from getting necessary, life saving care.

Medical diagnosis errors cause up to 160,000 deaths per year in the U.S. according to Johns Hopkins research reported in BMJ Quality and Safety in 2013. That’s 160,000 wrongful deaths each year that could have been prevented.

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