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Emergency Room Errors

Most people hope to never step foot inside an emergency room, but if they do, they expect the best possible care and they expect to receive it quickly. The majority of patients in an emergency room are there because their condition was so serious that they could not wait to see their primary care doctor or wait to see if their condition improved. 

Emergency rooms are often extremely busy and wait times can be long. Emergency room doctors and nurses have limited time to spend with patients to assess their immediate needs and are forced to make quick decisions about a patient’s care. Unfortunately that can result in patients not receiving the critical care that they need and/or mistakes being made in that care, which can lead to serious injury or death. For example, a patient who presents in the emergency room with symptoms of dizziness and confusion might be treated for dehydration when in fact they are suffering a stroke. 

Like any other medical or healthcare professional, emergency room doctors and nurses are bound by a standard, or duty, of care to their patients. The standard of care is the generally accepted treatment for a patient in a similar situation. In an emergency room situation, decisions are often being made very quickly. Emergency room doctors and nurses are expected to treat their patients in the same way as another emergency room doctor or nurse would under similar circumstances. It is important to note that the standard of care is how another emergency room doctor or nurse would act. A patient who is treated in the emergency room after complaining of a severe headache may have a few tests run and be discharged with pain medication and told to see a specialist if the headaches continue. That could be a reasonable standard of care under the circumstances. If that same patient were to consult a neurologist complaining of headaches, the neurologist, as a specialist, would be expected to look deeper into the patient’s complaints and run more diagnostic tests to try to determine the underlying cause of the headaches. Emergency room doctors or nurses who violate the standard of care can be held liable for medical malpractice if injury results. 

Common Emergency Room Errors

  1. Medication errors. These include:
    • prescribing the wrong medication
    • improper dosing
    • prescribing a medication that is known to interact with other medications a patient is currently taking
    • not asking a patient about any known allergies to drugs
    • not monitoring the patient for adverse reactions; and
    • not informing a patient about potential side effects 
  2. Failure to diagnose. The stroke example cited above is a good example of failure to diagnose. A patient diagnosed, and treated for, dehydration, will very likely end up back in the emergency room within hours of being misdiagnosed. Misdiagnosis can lead to severe and lasting effects for a patient, and possibly even death. 
  3. Failure to treat timely. While this overlaps with failure to diagnose, it also includes not  getting to a patient before their condition worsens or becomes fatal. Emergency rooms must constantly prioritize treatment. For example, if an emergency room doctor decides to treat a patient complaining about a severe stomachache, rather than a patient suffering from what is perceived to be a mild asthma attack, the person suffering from the asthma attack could suffer irreparable damage or even death. 
  4. Misinterpreting or misreading test results. Reading x-rays and the results of other tests and scans improperly could result in an emergency room error. A smoker who presents in the emergency room with a bad cough might be sent for a chest x-ray. If the radiologist says that the smoker has pneumonia and the emergency room treats for that but the radiologist missed that the patient actually had lung cancer, that misinterpretation of the test results could lead to a claim.
  5. Early release. If a patient is released too early, they could end up back in the emergency room due to a worsening condition or they could die.  
  6. Mistakes when performing a procedure. Emergency room doctors and nurses, especially in busy cities like Charlotte, N.C. treat a wide variety of issues over the course of a shift. There may not be time to call in a specialist, or one might be unavailable, thereby forcing emergency room personnel to perform procedures that they have little or no experience with. 
  7. Failing to give proper discharge instructions. In the often hurried emergency room, sometimes proper discharge instructions are not clearly communicated. This could result in the patient’s condition either not improving or getting worse after discharge. 

Lowering the Risk of Emergency Room Error

A trip to the emergency room can be a life or death situation but that is not always the case. If it is not, patients can take a few steps to help ensure that they receive the best possible treatment including:

  1. Bringing a list of current medications. 
  2. Knowing about the emergency rooms in the area. For example, if a child is injured, it would be best to bring him/her to the emergency room of a children's hospital or one where there are pediatricians on staff. For example, a child seriously injured in Charlotte, North Carolina, would be best served if brought to the emergency room at Charlotte’s Levine Children’s Hospital than that at Charlotte’s Novant Health Presbyterial Medical Center.
  3. Bringing a friend. It is important to have someone who can explain the situation, answer questions and be an advocate.

If You Were Injured in the Emergency Room

If you were injured in the emergency room, you may be able to bring a medical malpractice claim against the doctor, staff and/or hospital. Recoverable damages may include: medical costs, pain and suffering, lost wages, loss of enjoyment and, under certain circumstances, punitive damages.

Discuss Your Emergency Room Injury with Our Charlotte Attorneys

If you were injured while being treated in an emergency room, you should speak to an attorney to determine if there is any liability. The Charlotte NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced medical malpractice attorneys who can help. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation

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