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Detailing the potential for a stroke misdiagnosis

Many in Seattle may have a good understanding of the pressure that doctors are under to properly diagnose their patients. That pressure may be even greater in the emergency department, where the potentially grave situations physicians encounter force them to make split-second decisions. Still, it is expected that ED doctors exercise all due diligence in examining patients and interpreting their symptoms and results carefully in order to arrive at the right diagnosis.

Misdiagnosis of heart attacks in the ED often make headlines, yet another condition that might not generate the same level of publicity yet is equally as damaging is a stroke. Information compiled by the National Practitioner Data Bank and shared by AHC Media puts the potential of stroke patients being misdiagnosed at 9 percent, as opposed to only 2 percent for heart attack patients.

Study data shared by the National Institutes of Health shows that from a sample of cases reviewed from the ED Databases of nine different U.S. states, 23,809 potential and 2243 probable missed strokes diagnosis occurred in just two years. The patient demographics which showed the highest incidence rates of misdiagnoses included:

  •          Younger patients
  •          Women
  •          Minorities

The study also showed that the most common diagnoses assigned in cases where strokes may have been missed were headache and dizziness. Dizziness in particular presents a real problem for doctors because the standard is often to focus on the type of dizziness a patient is experiencing rather than the underlying cause. Recent years have, however, seen a change in the patterns of ED doctors in that patients presenting with dizziness will now often receive CT scans. Yet CT scans alone still may present room for error. Thus, doctors seeing potential stroke patients are encouraged to check a patient’s visual fields and perform procedures like gait and coordination testing.

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