emergency rooms are frequently a source of malpractice

Emergency rooms account for more medical malpractice claims than any other department in a typical hospital. Medical malpractice insurers have found that up to 55 percent of all closed claims originated in, or were connected to, treatment received in an emergency room. In addition, roughly half of the malpractice claims related to emergency room care stemmed from faulty diagnoses.

One of the problems with care in an emergency room is that the conditions are frequently chaotic. Further, health care providers in an emergency room setting often have very little information about their patients.

Many hospitals are making efforts to improve emergency room care by increasing the teamwork between doctors and nurses. New triage systems encourage doctors and nurses to see at-risk patients jointly soon after they arrive, and to take a time-out together before a patient is discharged, just to make sure there are no unresolved issues with the patient’s health.

The reason for these recommendations boils down one essential element that is frequently missing in an emergency room: verbal communication.

Studies have found that the reason doctors so frequently misdiagnose patients’ conditions in the emergency room is that critical pieces of information are missing at the time of the diagnosis. Often this happens because the patient shared relevant information with medical personnel who did not verbally share the information with other medical professionals treating the patient.

Pennsylvania medical malpractice attorneys note that one culprit may be over-dependence on computerized medical records. Information that is entered into a database but not shared verbally is getting lost in the shuffle, emergency room personnel are discovering. This has led to the recommendations of jointly-held examinations and time-outs to discuss information, instead of relying on computer records.

Some of the commonly misdiagnosed conditions in emergency rooms are heart attacks and strokes (particularly in patients who are younger than typical heart attack or stroke victims). Meningitis is also frequently misdiagnosed, in part because its symptoms (headache, fever, dizziness) are not unique, and also in part because information on the patients’ symptoms are either not shared by the patient or not shared between emergency room personnel.

Patients can help protect themselves by repeating information to health care providers in the emergency room, and not assuming that each person who sees them has been told what the patient has said previously to someone else. Even so, it is the obligation of the medical professionals to communicate fully among themselves in order to protect patients’ health. If they fail, and patients suffer from any resulting medical malpractice, those patients may have no choice but to seek redress through the legal system.

Source: ONRAD “Hospitals Overhaul ERs to Reduce Mistakes” 5/10/2011

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