Consequences of delayed diagnoses in trauma patients: a prospective study

J Am Coll Surg. 2003 Oct;197(4):596-602. doi: 10.1016/S1072-7515(03)00601-X.


Background: The approach to trauma care has improved in recent decades but delayed diagnoses still occur. This study aimed to analyze the prevalence and consequences of delayed diagnoses in a single European trauma center. The effect of a systematic reexamination of the patient (tertiary survey) and reevaluation of x-rays and CT scans was evaluated.

Study design: We prospectively registered complications among all trauma patients admitted to our hospital from January 1, 1996, to January 1, 2000. All relevant trauma and patient-related data were added by the physician to a hospital-wide trauma database with client server architecture. Complications including delay in diagnosis were subsequently added to this database. Admitted trauma patients underwent a tertiary survey and all x-rays and CT scans were reevaluated within 24 hours after admission.

Results: A total of 3,879 patients were studied and 1,016 complications were registered. Of all complications 55 concerned delayed diagnoses detected in 49 patients (1.3%). In 28 of these patients (57.1%) the tertiary survey (20 of 49; 40.8%) and reevaluation of x-rays and CT scans (8 of 49; 16.3%) resulted in detection of delayed diagnoses within 24 hours. Detection of the remaining 21 delayed diagnoses occurred after more than 24 hours. Delayed diagnoses resulted in delayed treatment in 27 of the 49 patients (55.1%) and surgery was necessary in 12 patients (24.5%). None of the delayed diagnoses resulted in death.

Conclusions: A prospective trauma and complication registration enables evaluation of the delays in diagnosis. In our study population more than half of the delayed diagnoses could be detected by a tertiary survey and reevaluation of x-rays and CT scans. Attempts to decrease the number of delayed diagnoses should prevent delays in treatment and improve the quality of trauma care.

MeSH terms

  • Fractures, Bone / diagnosis
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Multiple Trauma / diagnosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Time Factors
  • Wounds and Injuries / complications
  • Wounds and Injuries / diagnosis*