Medical Malpractice in the Emergency Room
More than one hundred thirty-six million (136.9) people visit hospital emergency rooms in the United States each year. The number of injury-related visits: 39.0 million; number of visits per 100 persons: 43.3; number of emergency department (ED) visits resulting in hospital admission: 12.3 million; number of ED visits resulting in admission to critical care unit: 1.5 million; percent of visits with patient seen in fewer than 15 minutes: 35.4%; percent of visits resulting in hospital admission: 9.0%; and the percent of visits resulting in transfer to a different (psychiatric or other) hospital: 2.2%. The bottom line, EDs are unquestionably critical to our health care system. (CDC)
According to a recent study by the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), nearly 50 percent of all health care in the United States is delivered in the ED. "I was stunned by the results. This really helps us better understand health care in this country. This research underscores the fact that emergency departments are critical to our nation's healthcare delivery system." (emphasis added) said David Marcozzi, an associate professor in the UMSOM Department of Emergency Medicine, and co-director of the UMSOM Program in Health Disparities and Population Health.
Because such a high percentage of health care is being delivered through EDs, it is not surprising that the rate of malpractice committed in the ED is also high. The American Medical Association estimates that almost half of the 225,000 deaths caused by malpractice occur due to emergency room errors.
Generally, medical malpractice occurs when the health care professional breaches the standard of care, causing injuries or death to the patient. The term “standard of care” is a legal term—not a medical one—which refers to the level care that a reasonably competent and skilled health care professional, with a similar background, and in the same medical community, would have provided under the same or similar circumstances which led to the alleged malpractice.
ED health care professionals may be allowed a little more leeway than non-emergency medicine health care providers because EDs can be extremely hectic at times, and as a result, it can make the practice of emergency medicine quite challenging. However, any such leeway is limited, and ED health care professionals can still be held liable for any harm which comes to a patient as the result of a breach in the standard of care.
Common Medical Mistakes in the ED
Medical mistakes in the ED can range in severity, but even minor mistakes can have serious consequences. Common emergency room mistakes include, but are not limited to:
- Failure to get a patient’s proper medical history (i.e., major illnesses or injuries, previous surgeries, past/present illnesses, medication history, etc.);
- Diagnostic errors (i.e., failing to properly diagnose a heart attack, stroke, infection, etc.);
- Misreading or miscommunicating test (i.e., MRIs, CTs, and x-rays);
- Medication mistakes (i.e., wrong prescription or dosage);
- Delayed treatment (i.e., ignoring obvious symptoms, e.g, chest pain, severe headache coupled with slurred speech, etc.);
- Failure to order appropriate test(s) (i.e., blood work, diagnostic imaging, etc.); and
- Patient dumping (inappropriately releasing homeless or indigent patients to public hospitals or on the streets regardless of their need for medical intervention).
Other common medical mistakes in the ED include failure to notify patients of test findings; obtaining medical history; staff fatigue and/or stress; improper staffing; inexperience/lack of training; and failure to provide discharge instructions.
Cases in Point
$3 Million Settlement, Boston, MA (2012)
An ED physician did not rule out abdominal trauma, leading to an un-diagnosed bowel perforation, sepsis, and prolonged hospitalization.
$5 Million Jury Verdict, Bertie County, NC (2014)
A man who went to the ED for a kidney stone was given Phenergan improperly, and as a result, was diagnosed with chronic regional pain syndrome and a lifetime of disability. The drug was not diluted correctly and was administered too quickly, causing the chemical phlebitis which resulted in chronic regional pain syndrome, a horrible condition that caused daily extreme pain. Phenergan, is used, among other things, to prevent motion sickness and to treat nausea and vomiting or pain after surgery.
$6.13 Million Jury Verdict, Cabarrus County, NC (2016)
A Cabarrus County resident suffered a fatal heart attack just hours after being discharged from Carolinas Medical Center-Northeast. The 53-year-old man presented to the ED via ambulance for complaints of chest pain and numbness in his arms. He was subsequently discharged from the ED after initial testing and suffered a fatal heart attack five hours later at his home.
The consequences can be devastating when a health care professional in an ER, or any other setting makes a mistake. If this has happened to you or your loved one, call our NC medical malpractice attorneys today at 704-714-1450. We have the expertise and experience in matters involving medical malpractice and will thoroughly investigate your claim and zealously fight for your right to just compensation.