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Emergency Room Errors

A broken bone, a high fever, an unexplained pain – there are plenty of reasons people may seek medical treatment at a hospital emergency room. Usually, only a small percentage of ER visitors are admitted to the hospital, and most people are treated and released. However, some of these outpatients are sent home with serious injuries or illnesses that emergency staff failed to recognize.

In hospitals where emergency rooms are overcrowded and understaffed, medical personnel sometimes make mistakes. They don’t know a patient’s detailed medical history and, under pressure to work quickly, they may decide on a diagnosis without clinical evidence to support their theories. They may also have to make quick decisions about what medications to administer, in what dosage, without knowing about a patient’s other regular medications or about that person’s reaction to certain drugs.

Emergency room errors can harm patients and, in some instances, can be fatal. If you or someone in your family have suffered because of an emergency room error, we may be able to help you. Call us today for a no-obligation consultation at (800) 529-6200.

Types of Errors

While medication and surgical errors have occurred in emergency rooms, they’re far less serious than missed, incorrect or delayed diagnoses. One of the most well known errors of this type occurred in a Texas hospital last year, when ER staff treated and released a man without diagnosing his highly contagious Ebola virus. The man later died from his illness. The hospital blamed the mistake on a software glitch, saying that even though a nurse knew the man had recently traveled to an Ebola-afflicted part of Africa, the patient’s travel history was not visible to the attending physician.

A study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine identified communication errors and inconsistencies in digital recordkeeping as two common reasons for ER mistakes. Researchers reviewed 122 closed medical malpractice claims that arose from emergency room diagnostic errors and found multiple causes, including cognitive factors, a lack of supervision, excessive workload, and a failure to order or failure to correctly interpret a diagnostic test.

Of the 122 cases, the study found 79 of the missed diagnoses caused harm to patients; almost half of those resulted in serious harm, and 39 percent resulted in death. In at least one case, medical staff had ordered a test for a patient but never looked at the results. The child was suffering from an undiagnosed strep infection. She returned to the emergency department three times, and each time, no one reviewed the test results that would have shown she had strep. As a result of the missed diagnosis, she suffered from serious complications of the illness, including paralysis.

Diagnostic errors are so prevalent that the National Academy of Sciences has a group dedicated to studying the problem – the Committee on Diagnostic Error in Health Care. The committee issued a lengthy report in September 2015 detailing how such errors occur and its recommendations for change. The report cites several examples of egregious errors in diagnostics, such as this case of a young man treated in an emergency room for multiple stab wounds:

The man had been stabbed several times, and ER staff discussed at length the severity of his chest wounds but somehow failed to notice the severity of a stab wound on his head. He was treated and released, and five days later when he sought treatment at a different hospital for nausea, blurred vision, and concentration problems, a CT scan revealed evidence of a knife wound that had pierced his skull and traveled several inches into his brain.

The report advises that diagnostic errors are likely to become more common, unless a significant and widespread effort is launched. The group says federal funds must be set aside for investigation of this serious problem and for development of training, procedures, and reporting systems that reduce and record diagnostic mistakes.

Advocates For Victims of Emergency Room Errors

Families may be able to help prevent errors in emergency rooms by providing important information. When a loved one is incapacitated, a family member can be the person who informs emergency room staff about the patient’s medical history, any existing allergies or illnesses, and current medications. If doctors order diagnostic tests, a family member may ask how and when the results can be accessed. Finally, even when a patient is treated and released for a seemingly minor condition, other people in the household should be on the lookout for signs of worsening health or a return of previously treated symptoms.

If an emergency room error has harmed you or someone in your family, you need an advocate on your side – someone who will protect your rights and who is determined to getting you the compensation you deserve. Wapner Newman has helped many families who have been harmed by medical errors, and we have ensured responsible parties were held accountable. Find out what we can do for you. Call us today at (800) 529-6200, or fill out our online contact form.