Emergency Room Malpractice
Emergency room errors are medication and diagnostic errors made by doctors and nurses misreading symptoms. With doctors and nurses rushing from patient to patient, it’s easy for important information to get missed. An oversight, like a skipped question or misjudged symptom, can have long term effect ranging from a delayed diagnosis to death.
Whether it’s due to a shift change or a rush of critical patients, poor communication between doctors and nurses is a major factor of emergency room errors. A spotty medical history or lack of access to lab reports or test results often means that emergency room doctors are making health calls without all the information. Even technological upgrades like entering patient information into electronic medical records can leave gaps, because when hospital staffers enter information into the system, they don’t always follow up with other, so symptoms can end up going unnoticed.
The most frequently reported emergency room errors are medication errors, as reported by the National Coordination Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention. Medication errors are mistakes such as incorrect doses, an incorrect prescription for condition or an incorrect prescription for the patient due to medical history or conflict with current prescriptions. A medication error can be caused by misdiagnosis, or just misreading a chart or label. Overcrowding and the chaotic rush of emergency rooms can contribute to such mistakes.
Emergency room errors can start as small as a delay in giving an appropriate diagnostic test, and end up as serious as a misdiagnosis or incorrect prescription. Heart attacks, strokes, and meningitis are just some of the serious health conditions that are commonly misdiagnosed, due to misreading symptoms, missing medical history or assumptions about who is at risk for that kind of aliment. Younger patients experiencing stroke symptoms like vertigo and nausea or numbness can be misdiagnosed because strokes usually affect older people. Meningitis symptoms are commonly mistaken for the flu, but the headache, fever and dizziness can be signs of the serious bacterial infection.
Appendicitis, pancreatitis and pulmonary embolism are also commonly misdiagnosed, and have been linked to emergency room error. Like meningitis, appendicitis and pancreatitis can easy be mistaken for more mild ailments until the condition has turn deadly serious. The abdominal pain, nausea, tenderness and vomiting that are symptomatic of appendicitis, inflammation of the appendix, are also symptomatic of pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas. If appendicitis is misdiagnosed or left untreated, it can result in a ruptured appendix, and serious infection. Mild cases of pancreatitis, can sometimes resolve themselves, but more serious inflammation or acute pancreatitis can lead to infection, breathing problems, and kidney failure. Chronic pancreatitis can also lead to diabetes and pancreatic cancer. It’s crucial for both appendicitis and pancreatitis that doctors diagnose the condition correctly and treat it accordingly, but these two aliments are common emergency room diagnostic errors.
Finally, another common type of emergency room error is when a physician failed to diagnose a patient with the imminently fatal condition of a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism is a blockage in one or more of the arteries in the lungs caused by blood clots that have broken off from the veins in the legs or abdomen and traveled through a patient’s bloodstream, becoming lodged in the lung’s arteries. The symptoms (shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing) of a pulmonary embolism are often subtle and similar to other more common conditions. Because a pulmonary embolism can kill someone within a matter of minutes if not treated with anti-clotting medications, anytime someone is complaining of chest pain or difficulty breathing, a pulmonary embolism must be ruled out by health care providers in the emergency room. The failure to do so may constitute medical malpractice.