Emergency rooms are often scenes of chaos, with crowded waiting rooms and frantically scurrying medical personnel. No one wants to be in the position of having to go to the emergency room, but surveys in 2010 by the Centers for Disease Control showed that 20 percent of American adults ages 18-64 said they had been to an emergency room for health care at least once during the preceding 12 months.
Not only are emergency departments a common destination for those who have been injured or suddenly become ill, they are a common site of medical errors and negligence. A mistake in the emergency room can lead to a patient’s symptoms becoming more acute, development of a more serious condition, or even death.
Indiana malpractice attorney Mike Stephenson has experience representing the interests of patients harmed by medical malpractice in an emergency room, hospital, urgent treatment center, or physician’s office. He has been successfully litigating personal injury cases since 1982. Call him at 1-855-206-2555 if you or someone you love has been the victim of a medical error.
What types of mistakes are made in emergency care?
Emergency department errors usually fall into one of the following categories:
Misdiagnosis. According to some estimates, emergency room diagnostic errors account for 37 to 55 percent of medical malpractice lawsuits. If emergency room doctors or nurses are too hurried, they may not take enough time or ask enough questions to make an accurate diagnosis. Heart attacks are among the most commonly missed diagnoses, often being mistaken for heartburn or acid reflux. Strokes are often initially misdiagnosed when the patient is younger, not elderly. Sometimes misdiagnoses are made because the symptoms are common to more than one condition. Meningitis and appendicitis are among the most-often missed diagnoses because emergency room personnel fail to differentiate them from other similar illnesses.
Miscommunication. Communication errors in the emergency room can have serious consequences. They can occur when medical personnel fail to obtain a thorough history on the patient or to ask critical questions about a patient’s medications so that a drug interaction may be avoided. Clear communication between doctors, nurses and lab clinicians is also essential for the delivery of safe and effective medical care. One study determined that a minimum of 19 complex communication events occur per patient in the ED, with the number rising in relation to the complexity of the case. Because there is so much going on in the typical emergency room, interruptions are frequent and medical personnel are attempting to manage information on several patients at one time, threatening the safety of the people in their care.
Testing errors. The usual protocol in an emergency department is to order a battery of tests to aid in making a correct diagnosis. Sometimes, however, the ER doctor fails to order a test which could have yielded critical information, whether a blood screening, X-ray, MRI scan, or EKG. Just as disastrous is the misinterpretation of lab tests, which can lead to improper treatment.
How common is ER malpractice?
According to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), over 100,000 people die each year due to medical malpractice and nearly half of these are from emergency room errors. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that “adverse events” related to ED care occurred in 9% of the cases and more than half of them were deemed preventable.