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How Common Is Emergency Room Malpractice?

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Taking a trip to the emergency room is a scary experience. Whether you suffered a fall, ingested a toxic substance, or experienced a sudden onset of troubling symptoms, you need to know there’s a place where you can be treated both promptly and effectively. But not every patient who visits the ER receives the level of care they deserve. How common is emergency room malpractice?   

If you or a loved one suffered emergency room negligence in the greater Philadelphia area, our experienced attorneys are ready to discuss your case. We have over 35 years of experience defending those harmed by medical errors, oversights, and omissions in our local health care facilities.  

A patient should never accept the consequences of a medical professional’s preventable mistake. Pennsylvania law provides the means for injured victims to recover what was taken from them through emergency room malpractice.      

What Is Emergency Room Malpractice? 

Emergency room malpractice is an act of negligence that injures a patient receiving care at a hospital Emergency Department (ED). The stakes of ER malpractice are high—many individuals who seek treatment at an ER are in critical condition, severely injured, or experiencing acute symptoms of a potentially fatal condition. A high percentage of ED patients are children, elders, or vulnerable adults.  

Emergency room malpractice can take on many forms, but it often involves a failure to diagnose and treat the correct condition. A medical professional may overlook signs of an illness, fail to order tests, misinterpret symptoms, or dismiss a patient too early. These acts of negligence often occur because staff are overworked, under-rested, and spread too thin to devote their full care and attention to every patient. But no matter the reason malpractice occurs, it is never acceptable. 

So, just how common is emergency room malpractice? Although it’s always difficult to pinpoint exact figures when it comes to medical malpractice, we’ll look at some statistics that can help provide a better idea of how common ER malpractice really is.      

How Often Do Emergency Room Errors Occur? 

One analysis found that roughly four of every 100,000 emergency room visits in the study resulted in a malpractice claim. Of the cases examined in this particular study, there were three main errors that comprised almost all ER malpractice claims: failure to diagnose, misdiagnosis, and inadequate assessment leading to premature discharge.  

Another study examined 6,779 ER malpractice claims gathered over a 15-year time period by the Medical Professional Liability Association’s Data Sharing Project. Of these cases, 38.5% resulted in death to the patient. Cardiac arrest was the most commonly cited medical condition, and a diagnostic error was to blame for the majority of adverse patient outcomes. 

In light of how common emergency room malpractice is, research institutions like the Harvard School of Public Health have sought to better understand the conditions that lead to preventable ER injuries and fatalities. A complex environment under which health care providers must labor with limited information and even more limited time is often named a top factor in the frequency of ER mistakes. Emergency room malpractice claims like the ones we handle at Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco hope to address this very problem by forcing the health care industry to create safer environments for both employees and patients.         

Medical malpractice is a major concern in the United States. A report published by Johns Hopkins Medicine in 2016 named medical error the third leading cause of death, surpassed only by cancer and heart disease. The prevalence and magnitude of this issue is one of the reasons the attorneys at Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco devote a large portion of their legal practice to fighting emergency room negligence in Philadelphia.     

What Is the Most Common Type of Emergency Room Malpractice? 

Diagnostic error is the most common form of emergency room malpractice, comprising more than half of all ER negligence cases.  

When a patient is misdiagnosed, their presenting symptoms are misidentified as stemming from a condition they don’t actually have. This means the patient receives a wrong (and potentially harmful) medical intervention, while their actual condition goes untreated. Similarly, a missed diagnosis frequently results in a patient being discharged without the care they need. A diagnostic error is a serious mistake that can lead to severe injury, worsening of the original condition, and a heightened risk of fatality. 

Heart attack symptoms are misdiagnosed in the ER setting with tragic frequency. Female patients exhibiting heart attack symptoms are statistically more likely to be misdiagnosed than male patients, as men more regularly present the “typical” signs of a heart attack. It’s sadly common for a patient to be dismissed with instructions for managing heartburn, indigestion, or anxiety—only to leave the hospital and suffer heart failure.  

A heart attack is one of the most common misdiagnosed conditions in emergency rooms, but it is not the only one. A hurried and hectic environment is not an excuse to rush a patient through the system without fully examining their state of health. A diagnostic error happens when a patient’s symptoms should have been examined more closely but weren’t. 

Why Is Misdiagnosis Common in Emergency Rooms? 

Working in an ER requires doctors, nurses, and other staff members to act quickly and think on their feet. Many professionals do this with amazing clarity and focus—and save lives every day. But others act negligently and don’t uphold the standard of care to which patients are legally entitled. 

Reasons for ED diagnostic errors include:  

  • Understaffing 
  • Fatigued and overworked staff 
  • Alcohol or drug abuse 
  • Falling back on gender, racial, or other biases when making diagnoses 
  • Failing to take the time to run additional tests
  • Lack of communication between staff members 
  • Skimming patient charts instead of reading carefully 
  • A push to get patients out the door as quickly as possible 

What Are Other Types of ER Malpractice?        

Other common types of ER malpractice include: 

  • Misread X-rays or misinterpreted test results 
  • “Patient dumping” (when a patient is transferred to another department because of lack of insurance, financial concerns, or other reasons unrelated to the patient’s health care) 
  • Failure to obtain a patient’s medical history 
  • Prescription medication errors (including wrong drug, wrong dose, or drugs to which a patient is allergic)  

What Are My Legal Options After ER Malpractice? 

Victims of medical errors resulting in injuries have legal options. When you were hurt by the negligence of a medical professional, you have the right to seek compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages. Medical malpractice cases are highly complex, so it is important to find the right emergency room error attorney to represent you. 

Contact our Philadelphia office for an obligation-free consultation. After we advise you of your legal options for recovery, you will be empowered with the information you need to move forward. Whether you choose to work with our law firm or not, your case evaluation is always free. 

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