Diagnosis (Berl). 2021 Apr 26. doi: 10.1515/dx-2020-0145. Online ahead of print.
OBJECTIVES: Delays in sepsis diagnosis can increase morbidity and mortality. Previously, we performed a Symptom-Disease Pair Analysis of Diagnostic Error (SPADE) "look-back" analysis to identify symptoms at risk for delayed sepsis diagnosis. We found treat-and-release emergency department (ED) encounters for fluid and electrolyte disorders (FED) and altered mental status (AMS) were associated with downstream sepsis hospitalizations. In this "look-forward" analysis, we measure the potential misdiagnosis-related harm rate for sepsis among patients with these symptoms.
METHODS: Retrospective cohort study using electronic health record and claims data from Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic States (2013-2018). Patients ≥18 years with ≥1 treat-and-release ED encounter for FED or AMS were included. Observed greater than expected sepsis hospitalizations within 30 days of ED treat-and-release encounters were considered potential misdiagnosis-related harms. Temporal analyses were employed to differentiate case and comparison (superficial injury/contusion ED encounters) cohorts.
RESULTS: There were 4,549 treat-and-release ED encounters for FED or AMS, 26 associated with a sepsis hospitalization in the next 30 days. The observed (0.57%) minus expected (0.13%) harm rate was 0.44% (absolute) and 4.5-fold increased over expected (relative). There was a spike in sepsis hospitalizations in the week following FED/AMS ED visits. There were fewer sepsis hospitalizations and no spike in admissions in the week following superficial injury/contusion ED visits. Potentially misdiagnosed patients were older and more medically complex.
CONCLUSIONS: Potential misdiagnosis-related harms from sepsis are infrequent but measurable using SPADE. This look-forward analysis validated our previous look-back study, demonstrating the SPADE approach can be used to study infectious disease syndromes.