About Emergency Room Malpractice
Emergency rooms are chaotic – based on the high number of patients and, of course, the fact that some unexpected medical emergency has occurred. It should be no surprise that emergency rooms are one of the leading sources of medical errors and malpractice claims. It may be challenging at any given moment for doctors and other medical personnel to remain cognizant of the present situation to ensure that patients receive the proper and necessary treatment for their condition.
In a report issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in the earlier part of this century, the long list of problems experienced by emergency rooms was documented. According to this report, the number of patient visits to emergency rooms increased by 26 percent from 1993 to 2003. While this was occurring, the number of emergency departments significantly declined as nearly 200,000 fewer hospital beds were available.
The result was excessively long wait times and ambulances being diverted from full ERs to some much farther away. The IOM report listed these diversions at 500,000 annually, or about one every minute. The report also mentioned that 75% of hospitals claimed to have difficulty finding specialists, such as neurosurgeons, to receive emergency and trauma patients. Many emergency rooms also were not equipped to handle younger patients.
Medical professionals are held to a standard of care based on the situation and community standards. Therefore, a breach of the standard of care is any action that a competent professional within the same geographic area would not have made in similar circumstances.
At times, it may be difficult for medical personnel to sustain the standard of care in an emergency room. The act of a medical professional deviating from these standards and causing harm to a patient may constitute medical malpractice.
Emergency room malpractice cases are based on the legal theory of negligence. To prevail on a medical malpractice claim, a plaintiff must prove that ER personnel breached a duty of care.
The environment in an ER is difficult. Therefore, any deviation from a standard of care must be serious. Nonetheless, certain errors in an ER are inexcusable regardless of the chaotic environment. Errors resulting from understaffing, unsanitary conditions, and incompetence often equate to medical malpractice.
Based on the hurried, assembly-line nature of emergency rooms, it is no surprise that misdiagnosis is the most common mistake that occurs. All of the information necessary to make a proper and complete diagnosis may not be properly communicated to the physician from the patient and from other ER personnel. If another doctor could have made a timely, correct diagnosis in the same circumstances, it may be medical malpractice.
Other common types of ER errors that may result in medical malpractice claims include:
- EMT, first responder, and paramedic neglect;
- Errors related to surgery, medication, anesthesia, diagnosis, testing, and procedure;
- Contamination of blood;
- Refusing patient care;
- Failure to see a patient as quickly as their condition necessitates;
- Improperly discharging a patient;
- Releasing or moving a patient who is uninsured or causes other problems;
- Delaying treatment;
- A worsening condition as a result of poor patient monitoring;
- Contaminated blood transfusions; and
- Miscommunication between ER personnel.
Any of the aforementioned errors may cause substantial harm, even death, to a patient. Any deviation from the standard of care in an ER may cause a patient not to receive the care necessary to improve and return to full health. In fact, the patient's condition is likely to worsen in this circumstance, perhaps significantly to the point of permanent injury or death.