Emergency Room Errors: When Urgent Care Goes Wrong

Emergency rooms (ERs) are high-stress environments where doctors, nurses, and medical staff work tirelessly to provide immediate care to patients in critical condition. Unfortunately, the urgency and complexity of cases, combined with the high patient volume, set the stage for potential errors. Medical malpractice in emergency room settings can have devastating consequences for patients who seek urgent care with the hope of getting better. Understanding how these errors occur, recognizing examples of malpractice, and knowing the steps to take if you’ve been harmed is crucial for patients and their families.

How Medical Malpractice Occurs in Emergency Rooms

Medical malpractice in the emergency room can result from various factors, including but not limited to:

  • Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis: Due to the need to make quick decisions, ER doctors may misdiagnose a patient’s condition or fail to diagnose a serious condition promptly. This can lead to incorrect treatment or a lack of necessary treatment, worsening the patient’s condition. In fact, according to a 2022 report published by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, this happens to nearly 6% of all people who visit the emergency room. 
  • Medication Errors: Administering the wrong medication, incorrect dosage, or failing to account for allergies can have lethal consequences.
  • Failure to Order Necessary Tests: In the rush to treat patients, necessary diagnostic tests may be overlooked, leading to misdiagnosis or delayed treatment.
  • Poor Communication: Miscommunication among medical staff regarding a patient’s condition, medication, or treatment plan can lead to critical errors.
  • Overcrowding and Understaffing: These conditions strain resources and staff, increasing the likelihood of mistakes.

Examples of Emergency Room Malpractice

Medical malpractice in emergency medicine can take many forms, often resulting from the high-pressure, fast-paced environment where life-and-death decisions are made. Some examples of medical malpractice specific to emergency medicine include:

  • Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis: This is perhaps the most common form of malpractice in emergency rooms. Conditions like heart attacks, strokes, appendicitis, or ectopic pregnancies may be misdiagnosed as less serious issues, leading to delayed treatment and worsening of the patient’s condition.
  • Medication Errors: Emergency room staff may administer the wrong medication or the wrong dosage, potentially due to misreading a patient’s chart, mixing up patients, or miscommunication among staff. Additionally, failing to check a patient’s allergies before administering medication can lead to severe allergic reactions.
  • Failure to Order Necessary Tests: Doctors in emergency settings may sometimes fail to order appropriate diagnostic tests due to oversight or a misjudgment of the situation, leading to a lack of necessary information for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
  • Failure to Consult Specialists: In some cases, emergency room doctors might not consult with specialists when a patient’s condition requires specialized knowledge, leading to inadequate treatment.
  • Surgical Errors: Although less common in emergency rooms, surgical errors can occur, such as performing surgery on the wrong body part or leaving surgical instruments inside a patient. Emergency surgery situations can be particularly prone to such errors due to the rush to address a patient’s condition.
  • Failure to Obtain Informed Consent: Emergency medical personnel may perform procedures without obtaining informed consent from the patient or their legal representative, especially in non-life-threatening situations where the patient could make an informed decision.
  • Premature Discharge: Discharging a patient too early, before they are stable or without proper instructions for follow-up care, can lead to complications and readmission.
  • Inadequate Monitoring Post-Treatment: After treatment, patients require proper monitoring to ensure they do not develop new or worsening symptoms. Failure to monitor adequately can lead to a patient’s condition deteriorating unnoticed.
  • Improper Use of Medical Equipment: Misuse of medical equipment, whether due to lack of training or negligence, can cause injury to patients.
  • Failure to Recognize or Act on Test Results: Emergency room staff might fail to act on critical lab results either by not reviewing them promptly or by misinterpreting the results, leading to a lack of action when immediate treatment is necessary.

These examples highlight the need for vigilance and adherence to protocols in emergency medicine to prevent malpractice. When errors occur, they can have devastating consequences for patients and their families, emphasizing the importance of quality care and accountability in emergency medical settings.

Holding the Hospital Liable for Emergency Room Malpractice

If you believe you or a loved one has been the victim of emergency room malpractice, it’s important to know that you have the right to seek justice and compensation. Here are steps to consider:

  • Document Everything: Keep detailed records of your ER visit, including names of the medical staff, treatments received, and how the alleged malpractice occurred.
  • Seek a Second Opinion: If possible, consult another medical professional to assess the extent of the harm caused by the malpractice.
  • Consult with a Medical Malpractice Attorney: Legal professionals specializing in medical malpractice can offer invaluable advice, help you navigate the complex legal system, and represent your interests in court.
  • File a Medical Malpractice Claim: Your attorney will guide you through the process of filing a claim, which includes proving that the medical staff failed to provide the standard of care expected, directly causing harm.

While some cases may settle out of court, others may require going to trial. Your attorney will prepare your case, gather evidence, and argue on your behalf.

The Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC: Over 30 Years of Medical Malpractice Experience

Emergency room errors can be a form of medical malpractice with serious implications for patients. It’s important for individuals to be aware of the potential for errors, recognize when malpractice may have occurred, and know how to take action to hold the responsible parties accountable. Navigating the aftermath of emergency room errors can be challenging, but with the right information and legal assistance, patients can seek the compensation and justice they deserve.

If you believe you or a loved one has fallen victim to medical malpractice in the emergency room, you can get help. At the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC, we specialize in helping medical malpractice victims hold healthcare professionals and hospitals accountable for the harm they cause. Learn more about how we can help you with your claim by scheduling your consultation today. 

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