Medical error is a leading cause of death nationwide. While systems issues have been closely investigated as a contributor to error, little is known about the cognitive factors that contribute to diagnostic error in an emergency department (ED) environment. Eight months of patient revisits within 72 h where patients were admitted on their second visit were examined. Fifty-two cases of confirmed error were identified and classified using a modified version of the Australian Patient Safety Foundation classification system for medical errors by a group of trained physicians. Faulty information processing was the most frequently identified category of error (45% of cases), followed by faulty verification (31%). Faulty knowledge (6%) and faulty information gathering (18%) occurred relatively infrequently. "Misjudging the salience of a finding" and "premature closure" were the individual errors that occurred most frequently (13%). Despite the complex nature of diagnostic reasoning, cognitive errors of information processing appear to occur at higher rates than other errors, and in a similar pattern to an internal medicine service despite a different clinical environment. Further research is needed to elucidate why these errors occur and how to mitigate them.
- diagnostic error
- information processing