The hospital emergency room is often the point of entry into the healthcare system for someone who is ill or injured. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are over 100 million ER visits per year in the United States. It has been estimated that some form of medical error occurs in 5% to 10% of these visits. That means that there are approximately 5-10 million medical errors in United States emergency rooms every year.
The job of a hospital emergency department is to diagnose and/or treat patients who are suffering from an acute serious illness or injury which, if not identified and treated quickly, would lead to more severe complications, disability or even death. Decisions about what diagnostic tools to use and whether to admit patients to the hospital for further care can mean the difference between life and death.
The usual process of patient evaluation involves the formulation of a “differential diagnosis,” which is a medical term for a list of possibilities of what might be ailing the patient. The differential diagnosis will frequently contain several possibilities, some of which are true emergencies and others of which are not. The emergency department’s responsibility is to rule out those possibilities on the differential diagnosis that are true emergencies and will cause harm if not immediately identified and treated.
Emergency rooms are required to have policies and procedures designed to ensure that patients with serious or life-threatening conditions do not fall through the cracks Failure to follow these guidelines, due to either flawed systems or human error, too often leads to an otherwise avoidable poor outcome.
The most common types of emergency room medical errors are diagnostic errors (failure to diagnose, misdiagnosis and delay in diagnosis), failure to properly manage treatment, improper treatment, and medication errors.
The factors most often responsible for these errors include:
- Failing to establish a differential diagnosis
- Failing to order diagnostic tests
- Failing to properly interpret diagnostic tests
- Failing to take a proper medical history
- Failing to listen to the patient or family
- Poor communication among emergency room and hospital personnel
- Documentation errors
- Staffing or workflow issues
The staffing/workflow issue is becoming increasingly common in today’s healthcare environment. More and more emergency rooms attempt to “fast track” patients or otherwise separate them into categories that predetermine the level of care they will receive in the emergency department. This can result in critical decisions being made by physicians-in-training (medical residents), physician assistants and nurse practitioners rather than emergency room physicians, leading to missed or wrong diagnoses.
The lawyers at Youman & Caputo are very experienced in the handling of emergency room cases and have a complete understanding of how and why these mistakes occur. We have handled many cases involving failure to diagnose a heart attack or stroke in the ER, missed diagnosis of spinal cord injury or compromise, missed diagnosis of sepsis, medication errors, radiology misreads and many other emergency room errors. If you think that you or someone you love has been the victim of emergency room negligence in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, contact Youman & Caputo for a free evaluation of your case.