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Common Emergency Room Malpractice Examples: Reasons to Sue an Emergency Room

Updated May 17, 2023 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

If you need urgent medical care, where do you go? Often, you will find the nearest emergency room (ER). 

In an emergency room, there is no room for error. Suppose you experience a life-threatening health event, like a heart attack or stroke. In that case, you require an accurate and prompt diagnosis and treatment. You expect quick and effective medical care, with attentive staff and clear instructions for what to do when you are discharged. Unfortunately, emergency rooms do not always run smoothly, and sometimes errors occur, some of which may fall under the umbrella of medical malpractice.

Emergency room malpractice has several causes, from failure to follow hospital policies to delayed treatment. 

Types of Emergency Room Malpractice

Delayed Treatment

A hospital’s ER can easily get overcrowded, leading to a shortage of beds or a lack of available equipment and staff. These conditions can delay treatment, with patients being prioritized incorrectly or forced to wait for long periods before receiving treatment. 

Delayed treatment most often occurs when the patient enters the hospital or triage area. If the medical staff misses obvious signs of distress, such as chest pain or difficulty breathing, the delay in treatment could have life-threatening consequences. 

When hospitals are understaffed or overcrowded, treatment will likely be delayed for many emergency room patients. However, when hospitals experience common emergency room problems like overcrowding,  nurses and staff should take extra care to triage each case appropriately. 

Even a minor medical issue can turn serious without timely treatment. If the patient sustains unnecessary complications, it may constitute medical malpractice. 

Ignored Policies

To save time or avoid paperwork, medical professionals sometimes cut corners. Ignoring hospital policies and procedures can seem inconsequential at the moment. But,  in reality, it can constitute malpractice if something goes wrong. Since hospital policy usually reflects the current standard of care, disregarding this policy can constitute medical malpractice. Many hospital negligence cases occur because the staff disregarded hospital policy. Ignoring hospital policy can look like the following: 

  • Poor patient monitoring: Monitoring the patient’s vital signs is crucial in any medical setting, especially in the emergency room. If a patient’s oxygen, blood pressure, or other vital signs drop out of range, the patient needs immediate attention. If the hospital fails to monitor these signs properly, the patient may not receive appropriate care. 
  • Medication errors: Medication errors can occur due to the doctor accidentally prescribing the wrong medication or the hospital pharmacy filling the prescription improperly. Either case can have life-threatening consequences for the patient. 
  • Rush laboratory results: In an overcrowded hospital, everyone, including those in the lab, is moving quickly. A nurse collecting a blood sample may not collect enough because they are rushing, leading to inaccurate test results. Those in the lab may fail to interpret lab results within the appropriate timeframe or may perform the tests incorrectly.  Rushed results can cause a misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose, and even an improper discharge. 
  • Misinterpretation of test results: Even if labs or other tests are performed correctly, it is possible that the doctor or provider can misinterpret the results. They may misread an x-ray or fail to notice a  blood work marker indicating a problem. This can lead to incorrect medical treatment. 
  • Failure to reduce risk of infection: When someone goes to the hospital for an emergent condition, it is important to treat the immediate problem and reduce any further risk of infection. For example, someone who needs emergency surgery may need to be on antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections – especially in a hospital where bacterial infections are prevalent. Failing to reduce this risk goes against the accepted standard of care. 

Misdiagnosis

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 7.4 million patients are misdiagnosed in emergency rooms yearly. When a patient is misdiagnosed, they may be given the wrong no medication. They may be prescribed incorrect treatment. They may even be sent home too early, with no treatment or without an adequate follow-up plan. This can lead to the worsening of the patient’s condition and can be life-threatening. 

Miscommunication

ER environments are notoriously busy. Medical staff may be stressed, overworked, and exhausted, leading to oral and written communication errors.

Not listening to, asking about, or properly recording a patient’s medical history and symptoms is one form of miscommunication. Other forms could include hand-off errors when work shifts change and mistakes in ordering medication or diagnostic tests. 

It can be challenging to determine whether miscommunication resulted in a medical error. However, it may be possible to identify miscommunication as the root cause. 

Some indications could be: 

  • The patient felt that their concerns were not being addressed.
  • There was an inconsistency in the way different members of the medical staff discussed the patient’s condition. 

These may point to a breakdown in communication or a misunderstanding. Reviewing the patient’s hospital documentation could clarify the breakdown further and provide evidence of negligence.

Improper Discharge

When patients leave the ER, they should feel confident about their stable condition and their received care. They should also know how to follow up with the appropriate provider after their visit. 

Unfortunately, many patients experience improper hospital discharge after an ER visit. This can include: 

  • Early hospital discharge: The hospital failed to monitor the patient for the appropriate amount of time before the patient’s condition was stabilized, or before appropriate tests were performed.
  • Misdiagnosis: The patient’s severe condition was mistaken for another condition, and, as a result, the patient was discharged before they should have been. 
  • No follow-up plan: The patient was not adequately informed of when, where, and how they should follow up with their treatment. 

An improper discharge could sometimes involve the ER medical staff failing to contact a patient’s primary care physician with test results or notification of medical issues.

Can You Sue an Emergency Room for Misdiagnosis or Malpractice?

Suing emergency room doctors can seem daunting or difficult. It is possible to file a claim and win a lawsuit against ER providers for malpractice injuries. Medical malpractice happens in every area of medicine, even in the emergency room. Emergency room negligence happens more frequently than we would like. Victims of emergency room malpractice should have their cases reviewed by an attorney to see if they are eligible for damages.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

If you or a loved one have been injured due to medical malpractice, contact the attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. An experienced emergency room malpractice lawyer at WKW can review your case and help you receive compensation for your injuries. Call 317-920-6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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Let WKW put our experience to work for you. Contact us for your free case evaluation.

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