Emergency Room Errors: When Mistakes Count as Negligence
When someone visits a hospital’s emergency room, they expect their needs to be addressed immediately, and with expert care. However, emergency rooms are notoriously chaotic environments, and many of them are understaffed relative to their needs.
This creates multiple opportunities for mistakes, even from well-intentioned medical professionals. To make matters worse, many people who visit the emergency room have pressing medical concerns. Errors in this context can result in serious complications or death for patients.
Fortunately, patients who are injured due to emergency room errors may be eligible to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against doctors, staff, or the hospital itself to receive compensation for their damages.
Examples of Emergency Rooms Errors
Errors in emergency rooms can take the form of:
- Medical misdiagnosis. This occurs when a doctor, nurse, or another medical practitioner misdiagnoses a patient and either calls the wrong doctor to treat them, misreads a test result, or misinterprets symptoms. In the worst possible cases, a doctor may tell a patient that they’re fine and send them away, only for them to get worse when they leave the emergency room.
- Failure to perform required tests. Some emergency room medical professionals will perform improper triage and ignore patients who need to take certain tests like x-rays, in favor of other, less-appropriate tests.
- Improperly medicating patients. Some doctors, if they are given improper information or fail to diagnose a patient correctly, may give that patient the wrong medication or treatment. For example, a doctor who gives the patient the wrong kind of blood during emergency room surgery could unintentionally kill that patient.
- Delayed treatment. Most emergency rooms are consistently busy, and patients may have their treatments delayed such that new complications develope. This may also occur if a patient is incorrectly triaged (i.e. their symptoms are thought to be less serious than they actually are).
- Failure to follow up. Even after being discharged from an emergency room, doctors are responsible for giving follow-up treatment, such as checking for infection after surgery. Failing to do this could lead to complications or death and is often considered to be a form of medical malpractice.
Most Common and Preventable Emergency Room Errors in the US
According to numerous recent studies, the most common preventable medical errors in the US are:
- Medication errors
- Improper or too many blood transfusions
- Too much oxygen for premature babies
- Infections from healthcare
- Infection from hospital equipment
What Can Result from Emergency Room Errors?
Many emergency room errors exacerbate the symptoms of the original condition. For instance, a knife stabbing victim may continue to bleed and eventually fall unconscious. But the possible injuries or serious complications that can arise from an emergency room error are almost unlimited. Examples include:
- Internal bleeding
- Brain aneurysms
- Heart attacks
- Appendicitis complications
What’s worse, many injuries caused by emergency room errors are preventable if not for some number of human factors.
How Common Are Emergency Room Errors?
Unfortunately, there is much evidence that suggests emergency room errors are more common than most believe.
- A 2003 observational study found that reported errors occurred in almost every aspect of emergency care, and that serious errors occurred in a minority of cases.
- Another study by the National Academy of Sciences found that out of over 62,000 emergency department visits, over 1,000 resulted in errors related to noncompliance, malpractice or inappropriate prescribing.
- The same study found that serious errors are most likely to occur in emergency departments and operating rooms, compared to all other hospital departments.
Ultimately, medical errors of all types (including emergency room errors) were found to be the third leading cause of US deaths nationwide, according to a 2016 study by Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Why Do Emergency Room Errors Occur?
The emergency room is a place where mistakes can get out of control and multiply. Consider, for example, that a typical emergency room is under-staffed and patients may be passed from doctor to doctor or nurse to nurse multiple times over the course of a shift.
This requires perfect communication regarding patient symptoms, medical information, allergies, and so on. But stressed doctors and other medical professionals can easily make a mistake when writing down patient responses or recording medical information.
Later, when someone tries to treat a patient, they may accidentally injure the patient without meaning to due to improper information that was recorded sometime before. In the worst cases, it can be almost impossible to determine who is ultimately responsible for an emergency room error.
In short, emergency room errors can occur because:
- The hospital is understaffed
- The staff is not adequately well-trained
- The staff does not communicate effectively
- Doctors are late or distracted
Are Emergency Room Errors Examples of Medical Malpractice?
Because virtually all emergency room errors are preventable, they typically fall under the medical malpractice legal umbrella. For an injury to be considered medical malpractice:
- The doctor must have a relationship with the patient
- The doctor must be negligent – this means they acted below the acceptable standard of care as defined by common practices of others in their profession
- The negligence was responsible for an injury
- The injury led to certain damages
For example, a doctor could send a patient home after unknowingly failing to properly suture a wound following surgery. This kind of error is typically considered an act of medical malpractice. If the patient’s stitches rupture and bleeding resumes, the doctor may be held legally liable for the injury.
However, emergency room errors are not always the fault of doctors.
Can Hospitals Be Charged with Medical Malpractice?
Many hospitals do not adequately staff their emergency rooms. This is not an excuse and patients still deserve the highest level of care possible from that medical institution. But in these circumstances, individual medical practitioners may be doing the best they can.
The fault for an emergency room error may ultimately lie with a medical organization or hospital that improperly or inadequately staffed that emergency room. Proving this, and any other type of medical malpractice case, requires expert representation and a thorough investigation of hospital records and available evidence. New York medical malpractice attorneys can help with these efforts.
What Compensation Can Victims of Emergency Room Errors Expect?
Victims of emergency room errors may receive compensation to cover medical bills and other damages, including:
- The cost for emergency room treatment and any future medical costs
- Damages for pain and suffering
- Damages for loss of income, particularly if the emergency room error led to the loss of function related to one’s job
- Damages for loss of quality of life
Contact New York Medical Malpractice Attorneys Today
Emergency room errors may be statistically unavoidable. But no one should sit back and accept these outcomes. Victims of emergency room errors should contact Sobo & Sobo.
As New York’s most knowledgeable medical malpractice attorneys for over 50 years, they can help anyone with a medical malpractice case get the justice and compensation they deserve. Contact them today for a free consultation by calling 855-468-7626.