It has been estimated the approximately 5-10% of all emergency room visits are subject to medical errors. According to the Centers for Disease Control there are over 100 million ER visits per year. That translates into roughly 5-10 million mistakes. Although medical malpractice regularly occurs in all areas of the health care profession, it is of especially great concern in the emergency room, where even the smallest lapse can lead to crippling injury or death. Emergency room malpractice is shockingly common, so it is in every patient's best interest to understand when and how it can occur -- and what to do if negligence leads to patient suffering.
Common Emergency Room Errors
From misdiagnosis to overmedication, a wide variety of medical errors occur in the emergency room environment. These errors may lead to pulmonary embolism, internal bleeding, stroke, infection, or aneurysm. The following errors are especially common:
Misdiagnosis is by far the most common type of malpractice in the emergency room setting. Certain conditions are particularly prone to misdiagnosis, including stroke, heart attack, and meningitis. Misdiagnosis results in improper treatment, including the incorrect administering of medication, and in rare cases, unnecessary surgery.
Downplaying of Symptoms
Trust between medical professionals and patients breaks down when health care workers downplay reports of alarming symptoms. Ensuing misdiagnosis and delays in treatment often prove life-threatening.
Medication errors in the emergency room often involve high or low dosages, but sometimes, patients are given the wrong medication altogether.
Reasons for Emergency Room Errors
The medical errors detailed above can be attributed to a variety of causes, the vast majority of which are entirely preventable. Increasingly, understaffing and lack of equipment are to blame, with many medical professionals rushing from one patient to the next without giving anybody the time and attention they deserve. As a result, health care workers often fail to develop a true understanding of each patient's medical background. This lack of understanding can lead to a variety of devastating errors. Overcrowding is also a notable problem, since it leaves patients at greater risk of infection.
The Role of Human Error
Faulty equipment and organizational problems are sometimes to blame when things go badly in the emergency room, but human error is far more common. A 2009 study published in BMC Emergency Medicine found that a disturbing 60 percent of 522 reported adverse emergency room events could be attributed to human error. Of the cases examined, over half had a negative impact on the patient, with many suffering extra intervention and physical injury as a result. Most problematic events did not occur during surgery, as one might assume, but rather during examinations and lab tests. Investigators involved in the study believe that significant underreporting may have occurred, indicating that malpractice is an even greater problem than hospitals and clinics would have their patients and the media believe.
Minimizing the Likelihood of an Emergency Room Error
Whether you're rushed to the hospital after a fall or sports injury, or you want to ensure that your father gets treated effectively during an ER visit pertaining to a heart problem, consider these strategies:
- Select a hospital with a great track record for patient care and safety. Ideally, choose a hospital with an effective medical records system. Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College found that hospitals without such systems make seven times as many medication errors.
- To guard against deadly clotting (venous thromboembolism), ask for a blood clot screening.
- Ask about the experience of your treating physician(s). Ideally, you want to be treated by Board Certified doctors. Visit American Board of Medical Specialties (abms.org) to learn more.
- Speak up for cleanliness. Ask nurses to clean your room regularly, and make sure anyone who touches you washes up first.
- If possible, avoid going to the ER during Friday nights and on weekends. A University of Toronto study found, perhaps shockingly, that patients admitted on Saturday and Sunday had a 16% higher risk of death than did patients admitted during week days.
- Overcommunicate. Make sure your nurses, doctors and hospital staff understand your needs and pay attention to them. Do not assume that you will automatically get the care you need.
ER Medical Errors in the News
Fortunately, the media spotlight has been shining brightly on this issue, especially in lieu of a recent, shocking BMJ report that found that medical errors constitute the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
For instance, a June 30, 2016 editorial piece in the San Diego Union Tribune noted that, in emergency rooms "there are… plenty of ways things can go wrong. In [a recent kidney surgery error] case, the surgeon decided to move forward without having confirmatory X-rays, taken at another facility, up on the digital screen in the operating room for visualization by the whole team despite the fact that hospital policy clearly stated that X-ray verification is required in cases where there could be left-right confusion. The incident highlighted a simple truth: Rules and procedures only work if all of the people involved actually follow them every single time. Safety, then, is just as much about a hospital's culture as it is about having the right policies, procedures, technology and personnel in place."
The problem is international. Also in June 2016, The Globe and Mail reported that: "preventable medical errors killed more than 30,000 Canadians in 2014, more than stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and Alzheimer's, combined. 'It's really, in approximate terms, equivalent to two 747s crashing every week,' said Dr. Peter Pisters, president and CEO of UHN[University Health Network]. 'If we were operating a public airline like that, we'd be shutting it down and regulating safety.'"
Responding to Suspected Emergency Room Medical Errors
If you believe that medical errors in the emergency room led to undue suffering for you or a loved one, it is imperative that you gather as much evidence as possible. More importantly, reach out to a trusted medical malpractice attorney. The right lawyer can inform you of your options and the merits of various legal approaches. As you gather evidence and obtain legal counsel, be sure to keep the statute of limitations in mind; once this time limit passes, it may be too late to file a lawsuit and obtain necessary remuneration.
Proving that malpractice has occurred can be surprisingly complicated, even if it seems obvious to you that your health care provider's negligence caused harm. To prove malpractice, you must have evidence of a valid doctor-patient relationship. You must also be able to demonstrate that the medical professional deemed responsible for your suffering actually acted in a negligent manner. Even if negligence did occur, that negligence must have been directly responsible for your present suffering.
If you or a loved one suffered due to emergency room negligence, you have the right to pursue legal action and hold responsible parties accountable. Connect with the medical malpractice attorneys at Rosenbaum & Associates to secure the compensation you deserve. Call 1-800-7-LEGAL-7 for your free case consultation today.
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