Nearly every American will visit an emergency room at least once, and approximately 100 million patients visit the emergency room in the United States every year. With the high rate of visits, emergency room errors are more common than errors in nearly any other medical setting. Since patients that visit the emergency room are in need of urgent care, even minor errors in diagnosis can be harmful or even fatal for patients.
Emergency Room Errors Cause
The atmosphere of most emergency rooms is highly conducive to errors. Since patients that visit emergency rooms are in need of immediate care, the stress level is often found to be higher than in other medical departments. Patients may be in pain, and are likely to add to noise volume and be less cooperative than medical patients visiting other departments.
Urgency of Care
The urgency with which patient care must be administered is also conducive to errors. Medical professionals may make errors in technique while rushing. Medical professionals may also fail to make necessary medical decisions in time to prevent serious harm or death.
Almost sixty percent of the patients admitted to the emergency room every year are under the age of five. Understaffing issues may also contribute to emergency room errors, with medical professionals that work more overtime being more likely to make errors. Understaffing issues may also shorten the amount of time that medical professionals can devote to each patient, making diagnostic errors more likely.
Types of Emergency Room Errors
Common types of emergency room errors may include:
- Misdiagnosis of a condition or injury
- Medication errors
- Delays in treatment
- Failure to thoroughly examine patient
- Incorrect treatment
- Surgical errors
The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act was enacted in 1986, which forbids the refusal of medical services due to a patient’s lack of ability to pay. However, emergency rooms may engage in this activity, called patient dumping. Emergency room errors caused by refusal of treatment often result in fatality.
Results of Errors
Emergency room errors may allow a condition to worsen, or present previously absent conditions and injuries. Previously absent factors which patients may be exposed to include improper medication or infection from an unnecessary surgery. Patients may suffer temporary or permanent pain, loss of quality of life, and may require further medical assistance following emergency room errors.
Emergency room errors can cause a number of conditions, including:
- Sepsis or blood poisoning
- Blood loss
- Heart attack
- Physical disability
- Cognitive impairment
If a patient fails to be examined or treated in time, conditions or injuries may pass a point where treatment will be helpful. Emergency room errors in treatment, such as overmedication or surgical errors may also have fatal results. In some cases, patients may be discharged and die later on due to treatment errors or misdiagnosis.
Prevention of Emergency Room Errors
Most emergency room errors could be prevented with improved staffing conditions. An increase in the number of qualified staff members in most emergency rooms would shorten the time that patients waited to receive diagnosis and treatment, preventing many conditions that are caused by delays. Lower patient to staff ratios would also increase the amount of time allotted to each patient, helping to decrease improper discharge errors and errors caused by incomplete diagnosis.
New or inexperienced staff members are more likely to make emergency room errors than more experienced staff members. Medical facilities may prevent this type of staffing issue by implementing staffing ratios based on experience and seniority. Alloting resources towards proper training can also help bring up the level of care, resulting in fewer emergency room errors.
Handling Emergency Room Errors
Patients that have suffered injuries or illnesses due to emergency room errors or family members of patients that have died as a result of emergency room errors may benefit from contacting an attorney. An attorney may be able to determine whether the error was an act of medical negligence or malpractice. Medical facilities or staff members may be liable for medical costs and lost compensation caused by emergency room errors.
Hillin, E. “Medication Errors from an Emergency Room Setting: Safety Solutions for Nurses.” PubMed. 22(2).June (2010): 191-196. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20541067>
Niska, Richard, and Farida Bhuiya. “National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2007 Emergency Department Summary.” National Health Statistics Report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 06 Aug 2010. Web. 28 Mar 2014. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr026.pdf>