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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.

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