Emergency Rooms in America: Misdiagnoses More Common Than Thought

Millions of Americans visit emergency rooms across this country every year.  Whether it be to an illness, the sudden onset of a new condition or disease, or due to trauma, the health care providers who are charged with staffing these emergency rooms are called upon to identify and treat often urgent medical issues.  We as patients put our trust in these individuals, believing that their expertise will result in us getting the very best treatment.  Emergency rooms in the United States, however, are often not the best place for us to get care.  Substandard care in the emergency room is often the byproduct of overcrowded ERs, rushed physicians, tired physicians or simply an overwhelmed system.  All of the factors contribute to missed or erroneous diagnoses.  

There are a number of common errors that our attorneys see in emergency room cases.  For starters, the symptom of chest pain is often overlooked or minimized.  Chest pain is a non-specific symptom, but one that is consistent with several imminently life-threatening conditions such as a heart attack, pulmonary embolism or aortic dissection.  Doctors confronted with chest pain must subject a patient to a battery of tests to determine the origin of the chest pain and attempt to rule out the potentially life threatening conditions first.  These tests can include EKGs, CT scans, X-Rays, MRIs, MRAs, ultrasounds, bloodwork and other laboratory studies.  In fact, many hospitals have what is known as a chest pain algorithm that spells out what steps and studies health care providers must take when confronted with chest pain to rule out potentially serious conditions.  Failure to follow these algorithms can subject these doctors to liability.

Most lay people associate chest pain or chest pain radiating down the right arm with a heart attack.  While that is a typical symptom for a man, women often present much differently when they are having a heart attack.  For example, women often times experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness or profuse sweating, as opposed to chest pain, and thus the lack of chest pain as a symptom often times is confusing for doctors who are attempting to diagnose the women's condition. 

In addition to chest pain, severe abdominal pain is a non-specific symptom that could be associated with something as simple as appendicitis or a pulled muscle, but it could also be consistent with a serious medical problem such as a gastro-intestinal bleed, a tumor/mass, a ruptured appendix and many more conditions.  Like chest pain, abdominal pain must be examined carefully via laboratory tests and other diagnostic modalities to determine the source of the pain and the best possible way to safely treat the condition. 

At STSW, our lawyers routinely handle cases of missed diagnoses, untimely diagnoses or erroneous diagnoses in the ER in the Maryland and Washington D.C. area.  Often these errors and/or delays lead to the death and/or catastrophic injury to the patient.  For a free consultation, call our team of medical malpractice / medical negligence attorneys at 410-385-2225.