The emergency room is a high-stakes atmosphere. Some of the most serious patients come into this part of the hospital.
Not to mention, diagnosis has to happen quickly, which opens the door for mistakes. A study of ER mistakes showed the highest risk for misdiagnosis is when patients have unusual symptoms.
The study classified unusual symptoms as those that are not commonly associated with certain ailments. The signs of certain emergency conditions have set standards, which are what a doctor is assessing to make the diagnosis. Still, some people may exhibit signs that do not fit within the normal standards, which makes it more difficult for a doctor to diagnose them properly. In the ER environment, it is even more challenging since everything moves quickly and getting to a diagnosis fast is imperative.
Some health problems stood out the most in the study for having higher chances of misdiagnosis due to unusual symptoms. Stroke and heart attacks were the two situations where mistakes occurred more often because of outlying symptoms.
The study also found that unusual symptoms are more likely in women and minorities, which meant these groups had a higher chance of getting a misdiagnosis. This fact is not too stunning since it is also an issue in non-emergency medicine since many of the medical standards that exist are based on white males and how they show symptoms of conditions.
The bottom line is that in an emergency room, doctors need to be aware that unusual symptoms may not mean the person is not suffering from a heart attack or stroke. Absent other obvious conditions, doctors need to adjust testing and their assessments to account for these potential outliers.