Common Mistakes Made in the Emergency Room

medical professionals hurrying a patient on a hospital gurney into the emergency room

Instances of medical malpractice can be surprisingly common in a hospital setting, particularly in emergency departments. The often chaotic, stressful, and fast-paced environment common in emergency rooms contributes heavily to the number of mistakes and critical medical errors made there. Compounding problems created by an already complex environment are staff shortages and reduced hours as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While emergency room physicians and nurses strive to make quick and accurate diagnoses, they are constantly up against a litany of obstacles, including overcrowding, fatigue and exhaustion, and complex triaging. Unfortunately, no matter what the cause, errors made in the emergency department can have catastrophic implications for patients.

Errors that result from negligence may be grounds for a medical malpractice claim. These claims, however, are challenging because of the nature of the environment necessitated by emergent care. As always, if you suspect you were the victim of a mistake made during treatment in an emergency room, it is important to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your legal rights and options. In this blog, we will examine common mistakes made by emergency departments and discuss what to do if you suspect negligence led to your injury.

Establishing the Standard of Care in Emergency Rooms

Because understanding the standard of care is a fundamental element of any medical malpractice claim, it is important to understand the applicable standard of care that applies to emergency medical treatment. In order for a medical malpractice claim to be successful and for the victim to recover compensation, it is necessary to prove that your injuries were incurred as a result of the medical provider’s failure to uphold the standard of care. Standards of care vary within the medical field based on medical specialties and other factors. In emergency departments, medical providers may be given a wider margin of error since they are forced to make high-pressure decisions, often of a life-or-death nature, with sometimes limited information in a very short period of time. Because of this, adverse outcomes are inherently more common, sometimes in spite of the fact that physicians, nurses, paramedics, and other emergency healthcare workers made their best effort to provide proper treatment.

Common Mistakes

Emergency departments must provide critical care to a large number of ill or injured patients. By their very nature, emergency rooms tend to be fast-paced and high-pressure for the medical professionals charged with providing care to these patients. Adverse medical outcomes can be shockingly common. Some adverse outcomes are the fault of equipment or issues within hospital operations, and others are the results of human error. In many cases, these human errors have a negative impact on the patient. These errors mean that patients must face additional medical intervention, serious physical injuries, or misdiagnosed illnesses without proper treatment. In an emergency department, many such errors occur during examinations and lab and diagnostic tests.  It is important, though, to understand how and why they happen.

Misdiagnoses and delayed diagnosis errors are common types of medical mistakes that occur in an emergency setting. These can be the result of a variety of mistakes, including misreading or misinterpretation of test results. There are certain conditions that are prone to these errors, like a stroke or heart attack. Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis can result in a patient receiving incorrect or unnecessary treatment, improper medication, or being discharged too soon. These results may cause the patient irreversible damage. Here are some of the other common emergency department mistakes made and the factors that contributed to them:

  • Failure to obtain an adequate medical history or perform an adequate physical exam: When physicians or nurses do not devote the time necessary to evaluate a patient properly, this can result in diagnoses being given that are based upon a limited medical history or an insufficient physical exam. These errors may occur at any point during their treatment in an emergency room, including during triage. Life-threatening conditions, multiple injuries, or atypical illnesses may be missed.
  • Staff and resource shortages: When a hospital is not adequately staffed or when critical resources like hospital beds and equipment are lacking, physicians may make catastrophic errors. Staff shortages can lead to exhaustion and fatigue for the remaining staff. Limited resources can influence decisions like when to discharge a patient who may require additional treatment and evaluation.
  • Delayed treatment, including failure to implement clinical protocols in a timely manner: If a patient’s risk level is not properly assessed or if key symptoms are overlooked or missed, proper treatment may not be initiated as quickly as it needs to be. This may include life-saving treatment like a sepsis protocol that could prevent catastrophic injuries. These delays may cause a patient’s condition to worsen so that a minor injury or illness becomes a major one. In an emergency room setting, it is critical that patients be monitored for signs of distress and worsening symptoms so that treatment can be delivered quickly.
  • Failure to communicate effectively: The medical team, consisting of physicians, nurses, and technicians, in an emergency department must be able to effectively obtain and relay critical patient information to the appropriate member of their team. If a nurse fails to alert the physician to important aspects of the patient’s history or if the physician fails to communicate detailed monitoring instructions, medical errors may occur.
  • Failure to perform adequate diagnostic testing or consult a specialist: This may include failing to perform follow-up tests or relying upon the results of a sub-optimal test, like an x-ray, when developing a diagnosis. In some cases, additional diagnostic imaging may have been key to making an accurate diagnosis. Often, emergency room patients need additional, specialized treatment. If an emergency room physician fails to consult with a specialist, a patient may go without needed treatment.
  • Taking too long to review test results: Critical delays in reviewing test results can have dire consequences for the patient. These delays may occur due to results being sent to the wrong place, failing to notify a physician that test results are ready to be reviewed, or a physician who is too busy to review available results.
  • Failure to properly perform a procedure: If a doctor or nurse is unable to perform a needed procedure correctly, the patient’s condition may worsen, or they may suffer additional injuries. Emergency medicine demands that physicians be able to perform a wide variety of procedures. However, if a physician has limited experience or has not performed a procedure in a long time, mistakes can be made.
  • Errors in administering medication: Medication errors can occur in an emergency room when the wrong medication is given, a critical allergy is overlooked, a dose of the right medication is not given, or when the medication is not administered at all. Both physicians and nurses can make medication errors, and these mistakes can have terrible implications.
  • Administrative errors, including test results: When administrative errors occur in an emergency room setting, they can have serious consequences. If a physician is not given critical test results or if test results have incorrect patient information, then decisions on treatment and diagnosis can be based on inaccurate or incomplete information.
  • Improperly discharging a patient: If a patient is discharged too soon, or if they are not provided with detailed discharge instructions, they may end up back in the emergency room or suffer a life-threatening illness or injury when they leave. Improper discharge can be the result of overcrowded emergency rooms where physicians try to make as many beds available for new patients as possible. Unfortunately, that may mean that someone is discharged before they should have been.

These medical errors and the factors that contribute to their occurrence are often entirely preventable. Issues like staffing shortages and lack of needed equipment often force emergency medical professionals to rush from patient to patient without ever being able to provide patients with the time, attention, and consideration they deserve. This represents a breakdown in the fundamentals of medicine, wherein it is necessary to develop an understanding of every patient’s symptoms, medical history, and current condition. When that foundation is not established, devastating medical errors and mistakes can occur. When those errors fall below the standard of care, you may have been the victim of medical malpractice. If you suspect malpractice harmed you or a loved one, it is in your best interest to contact a lawyer promptly.

Have You Been Harmed by an Emergency Room Mistake?

If you or a loved one suffered a life-altering injury or medical complication, and you suspect negligence in the emergency department was to blame, you should seek legal counsel as soon as possible. Klein Lawyers handles medical malpractice cases, has a stellar reputation, and has an outstanding track record. We understand how to identify instances of malpractice where emergency room diagnostic errors and other forms of medical negligence have harmed innocent victims. We have the resources, knowledge, and experience that you need to get the justice and compensation you deserve.

We will start by conducting an in-depth investigation of the evidence in your case. We will take the time to really listen to your story, obtain and review any needed records, and thoroughly evaluate your potential claim. During the case, we will retain key medical experts to establish the critical details of the injury that occurred. We strive to make this process as easy for you as possible, shouldering as much weight as we can. Our aim is that you focus on your life while we focus on your case.

We keep you informed throughout the entire case, so you never feel like you are in the dark. We want you to understand what is going on and feel comfortable asking any questions along the way. Too often, we hear concerns expressed from potential clients about what the process will be like, what they will need to do, how often they will hear from their lawyers, and what will be expected of them. We will make it clear right from the start. You will know what to expect, and we will stay true to our commitment to you. Communication and transparency are important to our team, and you will recognize that as our client.

Klein Lawyers Can Help

Klein Lawyers has over 30 years of success and experience in the legal field. During that time, we have worked hard to earn the trust and respect of Canadians who need legal representation. Working with an experienced lawyer is critical, and our team understands the trust clients place in us when representing them. We value that trust and feel honoured that so many clients choose our law firm to fight for them. We are passionate about obtaining the best possible outcome for our clients. While we know it is never easy, we will not stop standing up to medical professionals who harm individuals through their negligence.

Contact Us Today

Contact the Klein Lawyers team today at (604) 874-7171 for a free consultation of your claim with a Vancouver medical malpractice lawyer. We serve clients throughout British Columbia and Canada. There is no obligation, and your consultation is completely confidential. We are here to help victims of medical malpractice receive the justice they deserve.