DOI: 10.1515/dx-2023-0026 ISSN: 2194-8011

Factors influencing diagnostic accuracy among intensive care unit clinicians – an observational study

Paul A. Bergl, Neehal Shukla, Jatan Shah, Marium Khan, Jayshil J. Patel, Rahul S. Nanchal
  • Biochemistry (medical)
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Policy
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)



Diagnostic errors are a source of morbidity and mortality in intensive care unit (ICU) patients. However, contextual factors influencing clinicians’ diagnostic performance have not been studied in authentic ICU settings. We sought to determine the accuracy of ICU clinicians’ diagnostic impressions and to characterize how various contextual factors, including self-reported stress levels and perceptions about the patient’s prognosis and complexity, impact diagnostic accuracy. We also explored diagnostic calibration, i.e. the balance of accuracy and confidence, among ICU clinicians.


We conducted an observational cohort study in an academic medical ICU. Between June and August 2019, we interviewed ICU clinicians during routine care about their patients’ diagnoses, their confidence, and other contextual factors. Subsequently, using adjudicated final diagnoses as the reference standard, two investigators independently rated clinicians’ diagnostic accuracy and on each patient on a given day (“patient-day”) using 5-point Likert scales. We conducted analyses using both restrictive and conservative definitions of clinicians’ accuracy based on the two reviewers’ ratings of accuracy.


We reviewed clinicians’ responses for 464 unique patient-days, which included 255 total patients. Attending physicians had the greatest diagnostic accuracy (77–90 %, rated as three or higher on 5-point Likert scale) followed by the team’s primary fellow (73–88 %). Attending physician and fellows were also least affected by contextual factors. Diagnostic calibration was greatest among ICU fellows.


Additional studies are needed to better understand how contextual factors influence different clinicians’ diagnostic reasoning in the ICU.

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