Diagnostic Errors in a PICU: Insights from the Morbidity and Mortality Conference

Christina L. Cifra, Kareen L. Jones, Judith A. Ascenzi, Utpal S. Bhalala, Melania M. Bembea, David E. Newman-Toker, James C. Fackler, Marlene R. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Objectives: To describe diagnostic errors identified among patients discussed at a PICU morbidity and mortality conference in terms of Goldman classification, medical category, severity, preventability, contributing factors, and occurrence in the diagnostic process. Design: Retrospective record review of morbidity and mortality conference agendas, patient charts, and autopsy reports. Setting: Single tertiary referral PICU in Baltimore, MD. Patients: Ninety-six patients discussed at the PICU morbidity and mortality conference from November 2011 to December 2012. Interventions: None. Measurements and Main Results: Eighty-nine of 96 patients (93%) discussed at the PICU morbidity and mortality conference had at least one identified safety event. A total of 377 safety events were identified. Twenty patients (21%) had identified misdiagnoses, comprising 5.3% of all safety events. Out of 20 total diagnostic errors identified, 35% were discovered at autopsy while 55% were reported primarily through the morbidity and mortality conference. Almost all diagnostic errors (95%) could have had an impact on patient survival or safety. Forty percent of errors did not cause actual patient harm, but 25% were severe enough to have potentially contributed to death (40% no harm vs 35% some harm vs 25% possibly contributed to death). Half of the diagnostic errors (50%) were rated as preventable. There were slightly more system-related factors (40%) solely contributing to diagnostic errors compared with cognitive factors (20%); however, 35% had both system and cognitive factors playing a role. Most errors involved vascular (35%) followed by neurologic (30%) events. Conclusions: Diagnostic errors in the PICU are not uncommon and potentially cause patient harm. Most appear to be preventable by targeting both cognitive-and system-related contributing factors. Prospective studies are needed to further determine how and why diagnostic errors occur in the PICU and what interventions would likely be effective for prevention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)468-476
Number of pages9
JournalPediatric Critical Care Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 21 2015


  • diagnostic errors
  • patient safety
  • pediatric intensive care unit
  • quality improvement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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