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Emergency Room Errors

Georgia Medical Malpractice Lawyers Representing the Rights of Victims

Emergency room visits are never welcome – they are always unexpected, arising from unwanted health problems severe enough to require immediate treatment. In addition to your own medical condition and the stress brought on by that, you are thrust into a seemingly chaotic environment where dozens of people also are in urgent need of care, and often, the staff seems too small to handle everyone as carefully as you might like. The experience bears no resemblance to a calm, scheduled visit to the doctor.

The dramatic rise in hospital emergency room visits only exacerbates the problem. Increased federal involvement in health insurance and care has driven already-dramatic increases in ER visits to even higher levels, rising from nearly 103 million visits in 1999 to a record 141.4 million visits in 2014. This steep increase in ER utilization comes as hospitals seek to cut costs, often through staff reductions. The heavy use of ERs, emergency medical situations, and frequent understaffing of emergency departments creates an environment ripe for medical errors.

Medical Errors are Common in Emergency Rooms

Emergency rooms, with a hectic atmosphere, frequent need for rapid diagnosis and treatment, repeated handing off of patients from one caregiver to another, and the constant swarm of patients all make it more likely that errors will occur. And they do. Most of these errors are preventable and often arise in the context of overworked staff who lack the time to spend with patients and develop a deeper understanding of their conditions.

A number of studies have identified common medical errors in emergency rooms. One less formal study, conducted by a Philadelphia news station, looked at such errors locally. Philadelphia area medical and other sources identified misdiagnosis, medication errors, and downplaying symptoms – often linked to misdiagnosis – as the top ER errors. Misdiagnosis was easily the most common, the study found, and was particularly common in cases of stroke, heart attack, and meningitis. Obviously, failing to diagnose serious medical conditions such as these can have dire consequences.

A small study in Sweden examined complaints about medical errors and found that 15 percent were related to emergency department cases. Of those medical errors, 42.4 percent arose from diagnostic procedures, while 48.8 percent were related to care and treatment.

More in-depth, scientific studies back up and expand on those findings. One study took a list of common ER medical errors developed in a variety of other studies and did a statistically valid study of recent ER patients to determine what proportion of those patients reported experiencing one of the eight listed errors. Nearly 40 percent of patients surveyed reported experiencing at least one of the listed errors. The most common ER errors are:

  • Misdiagnosis of their condition, reported by 22% of all patients
  • Mistakes by physicians, reported by 16% of patients
  • Medication errors, reported by 16% of the patients in the survey
  • Mistakes by nurses, which 12% of the study patients reported experiencing
  • Wrong test or procedure, experienced by 10% of study patients
  • Medical equipment errors, reported by 9% of study participants
  • Being mistaken for another patient, reported by 8% of the study patients, and
  • Suffering an injury due to falling in the ER, experienced by 6% of the study participants.

Some of the patients surveyed reported experiencing more than one of the errors on the list. Nonetheless, 38.2 percent of all of the ER patients in the study reported at least one perceived medical error in their treatment. Because the responses were based on patient perception rather than a medical or legal conclusion regarding error or malpractice, it seems likely that the percentage of ER cases where a medical error actually occurs is something lower than 40 percent. However, these responses validated the results of previous studies that helped generate the list of common errors that were used in this study.

Any of these common errors could result in significant harm to the patient, up to and including death. Misdiagnosis in particular, if it leaves a serious medical condition untreated, can have extremely serious consequences. In addition to personal consequences for the patients, the issue of medical errors has national implications.

Medical Errors Impose Significant Costs on the United States

Medical errors cost the U.S. $19.5 billion a year, counting total medical, mortality, and short-term disability costs. Such errors cause 2,500 deaths annually. Medication errors alone cause more than 7,000 deaths and 500,000 preventable injuries each year. While these statistics are for the healthcare system as a whole and are not limited to emergency room errors, they illustrate the severity of the problem of such medical errors.

The number of people affected by these errors is considerable. Two large studies of hospital admissions found that “adverse events” – injuries resulting from medical errors or mismanagement – affected between 2.9 percent and 3.7 percent of all hospital patients. The percentage of those adverse events that were preventable ranged from 53 percent to 58 percent in the two studies. The studies’ estimates of deaths resulting from medical errors ranged from 44,000 to nearly 100,000 annually. That would make medical errors one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States.

The two studies estimated that the total costs to the country from medical errors ranged between $37.6 billion and $50 billion annually for all adverse events to between $17 billion and $29 billion for all preventable such events. Those costs include not only health care costs but also lost income, lost household production, and disability costs.

Contact an Atlanta Accident Attorney

If you believe you have been the victim of an emergency department medical error, you should talk to an attorney. You might be entitled to damages. Contact the attorneys at Slappey & Sadd for a free consultation to discuss your case by calling (404) 255-6677. Our attorneys serve the entire state of Georgia, including Smyrna, Decatur, and Marietta. You also can reach us through our online contact form.

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