When someone is in need of emergency medical care or assistance, they typically go to the emergency room (ER) of a hospital. Emergency room negligence or malpractice refers to injuries that occurred due to a doctor’s deviation from a standard of care during emergency medical care. (link to “What is MedMal”)
Because emergency rooms are fast-paced environments, errors tend to occur more frequently. Therefore, somewhat different standards are used for medical malpractice errors or injuries that occur during emergency medical care. However, the fact that ER’s are chaotic doesn’t excuse avoidable errors caused by a physician’s deviation from standard medical practice. If you have suffered serious injuries due to your doctor’s negligence in the emergency room, you may be a victim of medical malpractice. (link to “Did My Doctor Commit MedMal”)
Types of Emergency Room Errors
Emergency room errors can cause harmful injuries and suffering for patients. The following errors are common types of emergency room negligence:
Misdiagnosis occurs when your healthcare provider fails to accurately diagnose your injury or medical condition, which could further worsen your health. Because ER doctors are often rushed and have many patients to attend to, misdiagnosis is the most common ER error. A study of 332 emergency room claims revealed that more than half of the claims, approximately 57% of them, involved misdiagnosis.
Some ER doctors may not take enough time to properly understand a patient’s symptoms, or they might fail to look at a patient’s available medical history before making an important decision. Because of this, ER doctors may order incorrect tests and therefore misdiagnose a patient. Misdiagnoses can seriously harm patients if they don’t receive the correct treatment for their medical condition, or if they receive treatment for a medical condition they don’t have. If you have suffered painful injuries or undergone an unnecessary treatment or medical procedure due to misdiagnosis in the ER, you may be a victim of medical malpractice.
Delayed diagnosis or Failure to Diagnose
Failing to diagnose a severe or life-threatening medical condition, or not diagnosing it at all, are additional forms of medical malpractice. Given the same circumstances, if another ER doctor would’ve been able to make the correct diagnosis at the right time or identify a serious medical condition before serious consequences, the physician may have committed medical malpractice.
Improper Patient Discharge
Improper patient discharge occurs when a patient is discharged from the ER too soon, and has to return to the ER because of the same or more serious symptoms. In addition, when a patient leaves the ER, the ER doctor should have given the patient direct follow-up directions, such as instructions for any further treatment or necessary medications. If you’ve suffered an injury due to an improper patient discharge or due to your ER doctor’s failure to provide follow-up instructions, you may have a valid medical malpractice claim.
Another form of improper patient discharge is called patient dumping. Patient dumping occurs when a doctor refuses medical care or transfers a patient due to financial reasons (i.e lack of insurance or patient’s inability to pay). Under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), which is a federal law that applies to all hospitals that receive Medicare funding, an emergency room cannot reject any patient or refuse to provide them with medical treatment under any circumstances. Despite your inability to pay, the ER is obligated to provide some sort of medical screening and stabilize your condition as best as possible.
Under the EMTALA, the hospital is the only one liable, not the ER physician. Patient dumping is another form of emergency room negligence, and the consequences can result in extremely painful injuries.
Other Common Types of Emergency Room Errors:
- Misunderstanding test results
- Ordering incorrect tests
- Anesthesia errors
- Medication errors (e.g. wrong prescription or incorrect dosage)
- Surgical mistakes
- Overlooking or ignoring symptoms
- Failing to monitor and observe a patient’s vital signs
- Contaminated blood transfusion
- Unsanitary conditions in the hospital (ex: unsanitary medical equipment)
- X-ray errors
- EMT errors
Liability in Medical Emergency Malpractice Cases
The validity of an emergency room medical malpractice claim depends in part on the individual(s) who deviated from their specific standard of care. The standard of care expected from a first responder and the standard of care expected from ER personnel is not necessarily the same.
In most states, first responders are often protected from lawsuits. First responders are the individuals who are the first to respond to medical emergencies and the first to provide any sort of medical care to the patient. In other words, ambulance crews, EMTs (emergency medical technicians), and firefighters are considered first responders, and thus, they’re usually protected under the law.
However, if a first responder does something grossly negligent, they could be held liable for a medical malpractice error. If you have questions regarding the role of first responders in your potential medical malpractice claim, you should ask an attorney for more information.
Medical Staff in the Emergency Room
Doctors, nurses, and any other medical staff in the emergency room are held to the same standards of care as any other healthcare provider. Any deviation from the standard of care can be medical malpractice. In ER cases, a patient’s attorney has to allege that an ER staff member deviated from standard medical practice and that the deviation resulted in an injury.
Since emergency rooms can get very busy, it’s possible that other qualified physicians would have made the same mistakes. However, there are still many emergency room mistakes and errors that are considered medical malpractice, which is why you should always talk to an attorney.