Emergency room errors can result in injury, worsening of an existing medical condition, or death. Nearly half of all medical malpractice related injuries are caused by emergency room errors.
The need for emergency care normally means a sudden and potentially life-threatening health event has occurred. Death or serious illness during or following an emergency room visit does not always indicate emergency room error. Some visits to the emergency room will be unsuccessful, even with good care.
The emergency room setting is a very high stress environment for doctors and other staff, making mistakes more likely to occur, however, that is no excuse for substandard care.
Common emergency room errors include:
- Failure to fully evaluate a patient
- Failure to fully treat a patient
- Failure to monitor a patient
- Delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose
- Laboratory errors
- Medication errors
- Surgical errors
- Contaminated blood transfusions
- Delayed treatment
- Patient dumping
A large portion of injuries and death caused by emergency room errors involve misdiagnosis, delayed diagnoses or failure to diagnose. Diagnostic errors can lead to delayed treatment or failure to treat, allowing conditions to worsen and in some cases create other, more serious, health problems. Medical conditions which are often involved in emergency room diagnostic errors include:
A misdiagnosis can mean receiving an inappropriate and potentially harmful treatment. Delayed diagnoses can mean losing precious time during which irreversible damage can occur. Failure to diagnose often results in a patient being sent home without treatment, and can easily result in death.
The damage caused by medication errors can range from no significant harm to death of a patient with a relatively minor original health problem. Medication errors in emergency rooms come in many forms including:
- Administration of the wrong medication
- Administration to the wrong patient
- Incorrect dose
- Medication inappropriate for condition
- Medication inappropriate for patient based on medical history
- Administration of pain medication to patients who are intoxicated
Medication errors are often the result of misreading of charts or labels.
Discrimination based on ability to pay
Refusing to treat, delaying treatment, or providing inadequate treatment to patients who cannot prove their ability to pay is commonly referred to as “patient dumping.”
In 1986, in an effort to combat this discrimination and ensure that every person experiencing a medical emergency, including pregnant women in labor, can receive proper care regardless of their financial situation, a Federal law called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) was instated. EMTALA requires virtually all hospitals in the U.S. to screen emergency room patients for an emergency medical condition and provide treatment if an emergency medical condition exists. It prohibits hospital from transferring unstable patients to a different hospital unless it is in their best medical interest.
Under this law emergency rooms may inquire about your ability to pay, but they cannot delay examination or treatment in order to obtain this information or to obtain pre-authorization from your insurance company, and they cannot refuse examination or emergency treatment if you do not have insurance or the ability to pay for the treatment. This does not mean that you will not be responsible for your medical bills.
Medical malpractice lawsuits involving emergency room errors are complex and come up when you are the least prepared to face legal issues – when an unexpected adverse medical event is compounded by an unnecessary tragedy.
If you or someone you love has been the victim of an emergency room error, please contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation. We’ll review your emergency room error claim with you and help you determine how to best proceed.
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