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Emergency Rooms: The Most Likely Places for Errors which Lead to Medical Malpractice

A young man was rushed to one hospital’s emergency department twice, due to severe headache, nausea and vomiting (his headache was actually worse when he was rushed there the second time). In both instances he was diagnosed as suffering from viral infection and then sent home; two days after his second trip to the ED a massive brain hemorrhage cost him his life.

The nearest hospital’s emergency department, or emergency room (ER), is always the first thought during life-threatening (or what seems to be life-threatening) situations. Records from the National Center for Health Statistics show that in 1993 and in 2003 there were 90.3 million and 113.9 million, respectively, hospital emergency room visits made by Americans. These numbers become pretty small, though, when compared to the 133.6 million visits recorded in 2013.

Emergency rooms are fast-paced environments where doctors, nurses and other ER personnel must act fast, but with the greatest caution and accuracy, to be able to stabilize all those who present themselves there, especially the severely injured and the critically ill. So many of these fast-paced, over-crowded environments, however, are run by overworked and undermanned staff, some of whom are even inadequately trained – factors that highly increase the possibility of errors, which often lead to severe or fatal injuries.

The common types of emergency room errors are mistakes with regard to the type or dosage of medicine, wrong interpretation of test results, downplaying or ignoring symptoms, failure to require appropriate tests, improper performance of procedures, delayed treatment, misdiagnosis, and patient dumping, which means releasing or transferring of patients to another health-care facility due to financial reasons [this is a violation of the federal law, called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), for hospitals that receive Medicare funding].

While many would complain of delayed treatment, this may be due to the wrong “first come, first serve” concept. The fact is, emergency rooms quickly treat or treat first those who most need treatment. Determining who needs immediate treatment is done by a triage nurse using the emergency severity index, or ESI, which takes into consideration the condition of and the kind of care needed by a patient. While patients with the most critical injuries usually get treated first, they can be overtaken by patients with multiple traumas or who are either not breathing or unconscious.

If an error, however, (including delayed treatment) results to severe patient harm or, worse, death, then the family of the victim can file a civil lawsuit to seek the compensation which the court, where they will file the lawsuit, may deem them eligible to receive.

You can find more information about the frequency of errors committed in emergency rooms on this personal injury website. This website also mentions the legal responsibility that medical staff members will have to face due to the harmful results of the errors that they have committed as well as the damages that they may be legally required to pay.

Medical and Non-medical Negligent Acts the Lead to the Development of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a brain disorder that may be caused by medical or non-medical negligent or reckless acts. This brain disorder is widespread in babies and children aged eight or below. The known major cause of cerebral palsy is medical error/malpractice. Misdiagnosis, surgical error, delayed diagnosis and anesthesia error are the most common forms of this malpractice.

Obviously, such errors are easily avoidable through proper care of the pregnant mother and her child during and right after her child’s birth. Thus, no doctor or medical personnel under whose care the pregnant mother and her newly born child are can ever make the excuse that the injury inflicted on the child was accidental.

The non-medical causes of cerebral palsy in children usually trigger a severe or prolonged loss of oxygen to the brain, resulting to the development of the disease. A child who is constantly abused, who may have had a near drowning experience, suffered a forceful blow to the head or who may have suffered a head injury due to a car accident are examples of the non-medical causes of cerebral palsy.

Asphyxia, that is, oxygen deprivation during birth which leads to brain damage is another cause of cerebral palsy. During the first six months after birth, though, the infant may suffer from any of the following medical conditions which can lead to the development of cerebral palsy:

  • Intracranial hemorrhage, this is brain hemorrhage suffered the baby; this is usually caused by stroke.
  • Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) are factors that may be the result of a pregnant mother’s abusive acts or subjection to health problems. Use of illegal drugs during pregnancy accounts for the abusive act; suffering from infections and/or extremely low blood pressure are counted under health problem issues.
  • Abnormal development of the brain may be caused by changes in the genes that affect the infant’s brain development, viruses, infections or , disturbance to the head while yet in the mother’s womb.

Cerebral palsy affects a child’s movement, balance, and body posture. This condition causes great concern and inconvenience to child and parent, as well as financial burden to the family for the required costly medical treatment needed by the child. This is one ailment that legally deserves and requires compensation from whoever might have committed the act of negligence or carelessness that resulted to its development.

Defensive Medicine, Oftentimes the Real Cause of Patient’s Death

“I have complete faith in you.” These words, when uttered by a patient (or a patient’s family) to a doctor will definitely have considerable weight, especially if the patient’s real condition is 50% speculation. Despite any obscurity to diagnosis, a doctor should have ready answers to family members’ questions; probably even a straightforward and honest, I do not know what is causing all this, yet,” if necessary.

Many doctors would have surely had such experience – of being fully trusted and seeing, in the end, how the faith has actually worked, even without fully understanding the patient’s sudden leap to recovery. Maybe a lot of doctors would compliment themselves, thinking that they have done the right procedures and have given just the right medication.

Those who would venture deeper into faith may most probably be led to recall a line or two of the new Hippocratic Oath, which says:

“I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures that are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism. I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”

It is a sad fact, though, how majority of today’s doctors in the US are vehemently refrained from making medical decisions based on faith or instinct (developed through diagnosis of hundreds of like cases). Defensive medicine may have a lot to do with this – a situation wherein doctors in emergency departments, hospital wards, operating rooms and offices are told to dismiss basing diagnosis on possibilities of suffer legal consequences. Thus, in fear of being sued and accused of not following procedures despite being quite certain of what a patient’s real problem might be, doctors decide to rather subject patients to take medications or undergo medical procedures – both to the patient’s loss.

Prescribing medicine is one instance that can be related to defensive medicine, such as in the case of Depakote, a prescription drug intended for patients with bipolar disorder in treatment of their seizures and episodes of mania. Depakote side effects, however, have proven to be more harmful as the drug has been linked to chronic and permanent health problems, as well as the cause of facial deformities in children whose mothers have taken the medicine during pregnancy.

In some instances, recommending that a patient undergo a da Vinci-assisted surgery (da Vinci is a multi-armed robot designed to perform minimally invasive surgeries) to effectively treat his/her health complaint has resulted to serious injuries due to the unchecked da Vinci robot dangers.

There are many other medical instances wherein a patient’s situation and well-being are compromised due to defensive medicine. This fear of being sued is largely due to the tort system which can easily put a doctor in hot waters, being accused of not having done enough, if they let instinct affect their decision, or of doing more than what was necessary if they follow procedures to the letter.