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Diagnostic errors in paediatric cardiac intensive care

  • Priya N. Bhat (a1), John M. Costello (a2), Ranjit Aiyagari (a3), Paul J. Sharek (a4), Claudia A. Algaze (a5), Mjaye L. Mazwi (a2), Stephen J. Roth (a5) and Andrew Y. Shin (a4) (a5)...



Diagnostic errors cause significant patient harm and increase costs. Data characterising such errors in the paediatric cardiac intensive care population are limited. We sought to understand the perceived frequency and types of diagnostic errors in the paediatric cardiac ICU.


Paediatric cardiac ICU practitioners including attending and trainee physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and registered nurses at three North American tertiary cardiac centres were surveyed between October 2014 and January 2015.


The response rate was 46% (N=200). Most respondents (81%) perceived that diagnostic errors harm patients more than five times per year. More than half (65%) reported that errors permanently harm patients, and up to 18% perceived that diagnostic errors contributed to death or severe permanent harm more than five times per year. Medication side effects and psychiatric conditions were thought to be most commonly misdiagnosed. Physician groups also ranked pulmonary overcirculation and viral illness to be commonly misdiagnosed as bacterial illness. Inadequate care coordination, data assessment, and high clinician workload were cited as contributory factors. Delayed diagnostic studies and interventions related to the severity of the patient’s condition were thought to be the most commonly reported process breakdowns. All surveyed groups ranked improving teamwork and feedback pathways as strategies to explore for preventing future diagnostic errors.


Paediatric cardiac intensive care practitioners perceive that diagnostic errors causing permanent harm are common and associated more with systematic and process breakdowns than with cognitive limitations.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: A. Shin, MD, Stanford Children's Health, 750 Welch Road, Suite 305, Palo Alto, CA 94304, Unites States of America; Tel: +1 650 725 8261; Fax: +1 650 725 8343; E-mail:


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