The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 140 million visits to the emergency room occur in the United States every year. These numbers equate to almost 400,000 ER visits on an average day. When a person visits the emergency room, it is usually because he or she is dealing with a relatively serious health problem. The issue is at least serious enough that it could not wait for a family doctor to be available. While there are people who go to the ER for more minor concerns, the vast majority are experiencing a true medical emergency. The severity of the cases coming in the door means that emergency room staff place significant emphasis on treating patients quickly. Going too fast, however, can result in mistakes, and sometimes, those mistakes may be considered malpractice.
Understaffing is a serious problem in many emergency departments. This means that ER doctors, nurses, and support staff are frequently required to work long hours. To make things worse, they are often underpaid and underappreciated as well. Many ER physicians will see several dozen patients in just one shift, trying to diagnose every one quickly so that they can start treatment and move on to the next patient.
There is the added complication of having to start almost entirely from scratch with each patient who presents in the emergency room. When a person schedules an appointment with a family doctor, the office usually has the patient’s medical records, which includes illness and treatment histories, as well as important lifestyle information. This gives the physician a starting point to address the current issue. By comparison, an emergency room doctor is starting with almost nothing but the patient’s description of the situation.
Common Emergency Errors
When you consider the pace of an emergency department and the high-pressure environment, it is understandable that mistakes will happen on occasion. The most common ER mistakes include:
- Testing errors, including conducting the wrong tests or failing to conduct certain tests;
- Slow triage making patients wait too long before being seen;
- Lack of communication between staff;
- Inadequate patient monitoring;
- Delayed diagnoses;
- Missed diagnoses;
- Laboratory or radiology errors;
- Discharging patients before they are ready; and
- Failing to account for issues such as allergies to medication.
Not every ER mistake is considered to be malpractice, especially if it caught quickly and does not harm the patient. For an error to be considered an act of malpractice, the patient must prove that the care he or she received fell below what the medical community holds as the standard for a given area of practice. This means that if other reasonable medical professionals would have acted in the same way in similar circumstances, the error will probably not be considered malpractice. In addition, the patient must suffer some harm to allege that malpractice has occurred.
Let Us Help
If you or someone you love suffered an injury as the result of a mistake in a hospital emergency room, contact an experienced Wheaton medical malpractice attorney. We will review your case and help you explore your options for taking action. Call 630-462-1980 for a free consultation at Walsh, Knippen & Cetina, Chartered today.