Diagnostic Errors that Lead to Inappropriate Antimicrobial Use

Gregory A. Filice, Dimitri M. Drekonja, Joseph R. Thurn, Galen M. Hamann, Bobbie T. Masoud, James R. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE We found previously that inappropriate inpatient antimicrobial use was often attributable to erroneous diagnoses. Here, we detail diagnostic errors and their relationship to inappropriate antimicrobial courses. DESIGN Retrospective cohort study SETTING Veterans Affairs hospital PATIENTS A cohort of 500 randomly selected inpatients with an antimicrobial course METHODS Blinded reviewers judged the accuracy of the initial provider diagnosis for the condition that led to an antimicrobial course and whether the course was appropriate. RESULTS The diagnoses were correct in 291 cases (58%), incorrect in 156 cases (31%), and of indeterminate accuracy in 22 cases (4%). In the remaining 31 cases (6%), the diagnosis was a sign or symptom rather than a syndrome or disease. The odds ratio of a correct diagnosis was 4.3 (95% confidence interval [CI], 2.2-8.5) if the index condition was related to the reason for admission. When the diagnosis was correct, 181 of 292 courses (62%) were appropriate, compared with only 10 of 208 (5%) when the diagnosis was incorrect or indeterminate or when providers were treating a sign or symptom rather than a syndrome or disease (P<.001). Among the 309 cases in which antimicrobial courses were not appropriate, reasons varied by diagnostic accuracy; in 81 of 111 cases (73%) with a correct diagnosis, incorrect antimicrobial(s) were selected; in 166 of 198 other cases (84%), antimicrobial therapy was not indicated. CONCLUSIONS Diagnostic accuracy is important for optimal inpatient antimicrobial use. Antimicrobial stewardship strategies should help providers avoid diagnostic errors and know when antimicrobial therapy can be withheld safely.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)949-956
Number of pages8
JournalInfection Control and Hospital Epidemiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. All rights reserved.


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