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Emergency rooms are where split-second decisions can save lives. However, that same frantic pace can lead to serious medical errors. In the worst cases, emergency room errors can even lead to the death of a patient. Small mistakes can also lead to serious injury in the future. Although human factors mean that mistakes can and will happen, medical professionals are expected to behave according to certain standards. When doctors or hospitals make mistakes, they have to be held accountable.
A medical error can be considered a form of medical malpractice in some cases. Consider some of the most common emergency room errors and how the emergency department stacks up against other medical care units. Furthermore, we’ll also examine the rights patients have and how to bring a medical malpractice case forward in the event of an emergency room error.
The number of medical errors in the United States is staggering. Studies from 1999 to 2013 have shown an increasing number of deaths due to errors. In fact, the higher estimates would place medical error as the third leading cause of death nationwide! And those are just the errors that actually result in death; many more lesser errors occur. Emergency rooms, in particular, are susceptible to making more mistakes because of the high-paced nature of their work.
Healthcare research has noted several reasons why medical errors occur more frequently in the emergency room and operating rooms. Studies have performed a systematic review of medical errors, and they concur that, in many cases, there are lapses in procedure that lead to mistakes; i.e., negligence. A Harvard medical practice study found that over a quarter of errors could be attributed to negligence. Experts propose making processes and treatment methods more “foolproof” to avoid these costly mistakes.
Several kinds of medical errors tend to occur in the emergency department of a hospital. Patients may experience infections due to mishandling of hospital equipment. Inadequate attention after operations can lead to injuries from falls. Many other conditions can arise due to medication errors. Outright malpractice is relatively rare, though cases where patients have suffered due to a practitioner’s inadequate knowledge are not unheard of.
Another major category of errors is incorrect diagnosis. Diagnostic errors can result in a patient receiving the wrong treatment while their real issues worsen. Some incorrect treatments can even create greater harm to patients. Consider some of these kinds of medical errors. If any of these have happened to you, you may want to speak to a medical malpractice attorney to discuss your situation.
Emergency room visits often involve surgery to address urgent issues. However, disease control in hospitals is not always perfect. Infections related to injections and catheters are among the most frequent medical errors. These infections can happen when medical devices are not sterilized properly. Although doctors are extremely careful to sterilize to minimize the risk of infection, nurses and other hospital staff may not take the same precautions.
Many patients are given antibiotics after surgery to stave off infections as a precaution. This is standard procedure after most operations, so if your doctor did not prescribe any antibiotics or if hospital staff did not administer those medications to you while recovering, this would be a serious mistake. Hospitalized patients are expected to receive quality medical care in the moments after their emergency room visit.
Adverse events and issues related to medication are the leading cause of medical errors. This is one of the most common medical errors. While some side effects from medication are to be expected, many times, patients receive the wrong medication. Getting the wrong treatment can lead to serious problems, including a heart attack (myocardial infarction).
Part of the problem is that a patient may not be able to provide their medical history when they are admitted to the emergency room. A patient with a history of heart disease would likely be examined for a myocardial infarction right away, and the appropriate medication would be administered. However, without that information, doctors may administer other medication or need more time to decide. Delayed treatment can be just as deadly as the wrong treatment.
Emergency care does not always have the time to wait for results from diagnostic tests. However, the emergency room often has access to a priority lab so that they can get results quickly. Nevertheless, a diagnostic error can occur in this process. Diagnostic errors occur when medical professionals fail to order tests to get a clear diagnosis or when doctors incorrectly interpret the data and produce a diagnostic error. These errors are the root causes of many other problems.
Diagnostic errors are extremely common. Surprisingly, they tend to happen with the most severe conditions. Studies have shown that life-threatening conditions like myocardial infarction, pulmonary embolism, and subarachnoid hemorrhage are among the most misdiagnosed conditions. Delayed diagnosis is also among the most common emergency room errors. These delays are often avoidable and can be attributed to medical malpractice.
Sometimes emergency room doctors simply perform the wrong procedure on a patient. While this kind of emergency room error seems outlandish, it does happen. A diagnostic error may cause the hospital to order the incorrect procedure. However, other times these emergency room errors occur when patients are confused or an error is made on the patient’s record. Cognitive errors made by doctors performing surgeries can also cause this kind of error.
On other occasions, a patient may receive an incorrect diagnosis because they have nonspecific or atypical symptoms, resulting in the wrong procedure being performed. While doctors should use a differential diagnosis test to determine the exact condition, emergency medicine seeks to solve problems quickly. There may not be time to discard every possibility. Nevertheless, standard clinical decision-making encourages doctors to avoid potentially dangerous procedures when there is no clear diagnosis.
Not every error qualifies as medical malpractice. To have a medical malpractice case, the error that the patient suffered must meet several criteria. The most important factor is harm. If the error did not result in any harm to the patient, then there is nothing to seek compensation for. However, if there is evidence of harm, whether due to adverse events or related to your medical care or a more severe error, you may have a case.
The next variable is whether the hospital followed standard procedures. Hospitals are held to certain standards that are set by organizations like the American Board of Surgery. If an emergency room or emergency department deviates from those standards, you can gather evidence and prove that your injury was the result of negligence. Harm and negligence combined equal medical malpractice. If you believe that this is what happened to you, what are the next steps?
You have to provide evidence of both negligence and the harm you experienced to build a case. Harm is fairly easy to prove since emergency room errors usually lead to additional treatments or procedures, which impose an additional cost to the patient. You can bring hospital bills to accomplish this. Be sure to document other expenses related to your injuries, including parking payments and wages lost from being unable to work.
Regarding negligence, you will need another doctor’s testimony to prove that the hospital workers did not follow the proper procedure. You can also demonstrate negligence if you were not informed of the risk related to your procedure. You should have received informed consent papers and a full explanation of the risk involved before undergoing any procedure. The only exceptions are when the patient is genuinely unable to understand and agree to a procedure, and it would be dangerous to wait. For example, if a car accident victim is admitted to the emergency room while unconscious and needs immediate emergency surgery to prevent death, the ER would not need to get the patient’s permission.
Patients have the right to receive compensation when a clinical error has harmed them. A medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed to sue the medical professionals involved or the facility itself. If your case meets all of the criteria above, you can file your claim in a local court, and those named in the lawsuit will be notified. They will have multiple opportunities to respond to your claim. In some cases, they may offer a settlement right away.
However, it is more common for hospitals to deny any wrongdoing to avoid compensating the patient. This is why it’s important to hire a lawyer to help you with your case. With a lawyer at your side, you are much more likely to receive a settlement.
An experienced attorney can help you by gathering evidence to support your case. In addition, lawyers can help you get the necessary testimony from another doctor to justify your claims. With extensive knowledge of the legal system, lawyers will make sure you don’t make any mistakes when filing a lawsuit, which will help you get the compensation you need quickly.
If you believe you were the victim of an emergency room error, contact Wendt Law Firm P.C. at 816-542-6734 to schedule a free consultation.