Imagine this: you go to your local emergency room with shooting pains in your left arm, tightness in your chest, and a feeling of doom. You’re made to wait for hours to receive an examination. By the time you’re seen, some of your symptoms have subsided, and the attending physician diagnoses you with a panic attack. You’re discharged with a prescription for anti-anxiety medication and sent home.
The next day, the symptoms come back, but significantly worse. You’re rushed back to the hospital and require open-heart surgery because you are having a major heart attack. It turns out that the night before, you had also been suffering from heart attack symptoms, but you were misdiagnosed. If you had received treatment then, the second attack could have been prevented, and you might not have needed such invasive surgery.
Unfortunately, events like this happen every day in California. Many people are discharged from the emergency room based on misdiagnoses caused by medical negligence. These incorrect diagnoses delay patients from discovering the true source of their health problems, which can cause them to get significantly worse before they finally receive appropriate treatment.
These incidents are more than just unfortunate accidents. In many cases, they are also examples of medical malpractice.
What Is Emergency Room Malpractice?
Emergency room (ER) malpractice is an often-overlooked medical malpractice that affects thousands of Americans annually. Malpractice in the emergency room is more common than many people realize. According to one report, almost one in every five reported instances of hospital malpractice occurs in the emergency room. More importantly, 63% of ER malpractice events occur between 1 am and 6 am, when these facilities are often overfilled and understaffed.
ER malpractice specifically occurs in emergency rooms, where patients usually require urgent treatment. It happens when the healthcare providers at the ER fail to meet the “standard of care” and end up causing the patient harm.
The standard of care is a collection of procedures and expectations considered the basic requirement to keep patients healthy in a specific discipline. Some things are true in every field, such as creating an aseptic field before giving patients injections to avoid infections. Others are more specialized, particularly those within the ER. These include:
- Recognizing medical emergencies and responding accordingly
- Following heart attack and stroke protocols in patients presenting with certain symptoms
- Getting informed consent from patients before taking lifesaving measures
- Confirming the patient’s medical history before treatment
- Treating all patients without bias
Failing to meet these standards is considered negligent and is often grounds for a medical malpractice claim.
Risks of Negligence in the ER
Emergency room professionals are often balancing multiple patients and crises at once. However, they have specific training intended to simplify this process. When a healthcare worker disregards this training, their negligence can harm patients through the following:
Misdiagnoses are some of the most prevalent issues in California ERs. Healthcare workers often have unconscious biases that prevent them from considering all the options when a patient requests treatment.
Examples of this include:
- Failing to order appropriate tests despite protocols because they assume a patient is too young, too old, or otherwise couldn’t have a specific condition
- Assuming patients are “seeking drugs” and ignoring their reported pain or symptoms
- Making assumptions about the type of condition someone may have based on their gender or appearance instead of testing
These issues can lead to diagnosing someone incorrectly, which can be fatal.
Failing to Receive Consent
Outside of true medical emergencies that risk an unconscious person’s life, limb, or body function, medical professionals should always get informed consent from the patient before beginning treatment. If you are conscious, the ER team should explain what treatment they suggest and receive your consent before beginning. If you aren’t conscious, they are supposed to stabilize you and either get your emergency contact’s permission or wait for you to wake up before proceeding.
However, many negligent healthcare workers disregard the importance of consent. They may perform procedures or give you drugs without telling you what’s happening. This often leads to problems where patients receive drugs they do not want or suffer amputations or other invasive procedures against their will, another form of medical malpractice.
Failure to Identify Medical Emergencies
Since medical professionals in the ER often juggle multiple medical emergencies at once, they must properly triage patients. Triaging is the process of determining which patients need the most immediate treatment. For instance, someone actively bleeding out will be treated before someone with a broken ankle because the ankle injury isn’t potentially life-threatening.
The problem is that triaging can go wrong. If a healthcare worker has unconscious biases, they are more likely to dismiss a patient’s symptoms, even when they are classic examples of a heart attack or other serious and potentially deadly problem. Many ER malpractice cases boil down to a medical professional failing to respect patients and discharging them inappropriately.
Have You Suffered from ER Malpractice?
You may have suffered emergency room malpractice if you were misdiagnosed or discharged from the ER without treatment. You may also have fallen victim to medical negligence if you were forced to receive treatment without your consent. In all of these cases, you can hold the negligent medical professionals involved in your treatment accountable for the harm they caused you.
However, these cases are complex. If you believe you may have been improperly treated or discharged from the ER, you need experienced legal counsel on your side. You can reach out to the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC, to discuss your needs. We have been helping victims of medical malpractice find answers in Los Angeles for over 30 years, and we can help you too.