Should we confirm our clinical diagnostic certainty by autopsies?
Intensive Care Medicine, October 2001
M. Podbregar, G. Voga, B. Krivec, R. Skale, R. Parežnik, L. Gabršček
To evaluate the frequency of diagnostic errors assessed by autopsies. Retrospective review of medical and pathological records in an 11-bed closed medical intensive care unit (ICU) at a 860-bed general hospital. Patients who died in the ICU between January 1998 and December 1999. Medical diagnoses were rated into three levels of clinical diagnostic certainty: complete certainty (group L1), minor diagnostic uncertainty (group L2), and major diagnostic uncertainty (group L3). The patients were divided into three error groups: group A, the autopsy confirmed the clinical diagnosis; group B, the autopsy demonstrated a new relevant diagnosis which would probably not have influenced the therapy and outcome; group C, the autopsy demonstrated a new relevant diagnosis which would probably have changed the therapy and outcome. The overall mortality was 20.3% (270/1331 patients). Autopsies were performed in 126 patients (46.9% of deaths), more often in younger patients (66.6+/-13.9 years vs 72.7+/-12.0 years, p<0.001), in patients with shorter ICU stay (4.7+/-5.6 days vs 6.7+/-8.7 days, p=0.054), and in patients in group L3 without chronic diseases (15/126 vs 1/144, p<0.001). Fatal but potentially treatable errors [group C, 12 patients (9.5%)] were found in 8.7%, 10.0%, and 10.5% of patients in groups L1, L2, and L3, respectively (NS between groups). An ICU length of stay shorter than 24 h was not related to the frequency of group C errors. Autopsies are performed more often in younger patients without chronic disease and in patients with a low clinical diagnostic certainty. No level of clinical diagnostic certainty could predict the pathological findings.
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