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Diagnostic Errors that Lead to Inappropriate Antimicrobial Use

  • Gregory A. Filice (a1) (a2), Dimitri M. Drekonja (a1) (a2), Joseph R. Thurn (a1) (a2), Galen M. Hamann (a1), Bobbie T. Masoud (a1) and James R. Johnson (a1) (a2)...

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.


Retrospective cohort study


Veterans Affairs hospital


A cohort of 500 randomly selected inpatients with an antimicrobial course


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.


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.


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.

Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2015;36(8):949–956

Corresponding author
Address correspondence to Gregory A. Filice, MD, Infectious Disease Section (111F), Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, 1 Veterans Drive, Minneapolis, MN 55417 (
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PREVIOUS PRESENTATION. Information presented in this article was previously presented in Program and Abstracts, ID Week, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 8–12, 2014.

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Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology
  • ISSN: 0899-823X
  • EISSN: 1559-6834
  • URL: /core/journals/infection-control-and-hospital-epidemiology
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