There are approximately 100 million ER visits per year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and about 5-10% of all ER visits are subject to some type of medical mistake. That means that about 5-10 million mistakes are being made in ER’s every year.
One of the most common types of emergency department mistake is the life-threatening misdiagnosis. People understand that ER doctors and nurses are in one of the most stressful departments in the hospital, and that working in an ER means making split-second decisions that save lives. But what happens when someone is misdiagnosed in the ER, and the treatment from the misdiagnosis results in even more serious injuries or death?
If you’re a patient in the ER and a doctor misdiagnoses you, the treatment and medication that follows the misdiagnosis could kill you. Even though ER’s are fast-paced, stressful work environments for healthcare professionals, medical mistakes in the ER can be deadly, and when these mistakes happen, families are left with the aftermath, pain, and heartache of a medical error that could change lives forever.
Thousands of people pack our country’s emergency rooms every day, and two of the medical crises that lead people to the ER—heart attack and stroke—are often misdiagnosed. When heart attacks and strokes are misdiagnosed, then improper treatment, which may include surgery that’s not necessary or medications that could do even more damage, usually follows. In some cases, heart attack and stroke victims are sent home without any treatment.
What typically leads an ER doctor to diagnose a patient incorrectly?
Disregarding certain symptoms: Because various medical conditions may present with similar symptoms, some doctors may disregard a significant symptom or attribute it to something less serious. For example, while a headache may stem from a number of issues (stress, tension, hunger, etc.), some headaches are an indication of something much more serious like a brain aneurysm or stroke. A doctor must take the time to listen to the patient and get detailed information about symptoms, but in the fast-paced environment of the ER, doctors often feel they don’t have the time to take a detailed medical history, and this can lead to a misdiagnosis.
Mismanaged medical tests: While working in a hurried state, doctors may not order all necessary tests to properly diagnose a patient. Similarly, they may order all the right tests but read them incorrectly. Either of these instances of mismanaged medical testing can be catastrophic to the patient.
One glaring example of a medical test mistake is missing cancer on an x-ray or MRI and the patient goes home thinking it’s something much less serious. Months later, the patient presents again in the ER, and the same tumor that was missed several months ago has now grown to a dangerously large size that makes eradicating it virtually impossible.
Delaying diagnosis and treatment: Some busy emergency rooms leave patients waiting for hours, and that time can result in a delayed diagnosis. If someone presents with abdominal pain and is triaged as less urgent than other patients, he will wait until the doctors deal with the more serious patients. But what if that abdominal pain is due to internal bleeding? A person deemed as non-emergent could bleed to death right there in the waiting room of the emergency department.
Misdiagnosed ER patients have the right to seek compensation if an ER or an ER doctor exacerbated their conditions. Many states have strict statutes of limitations for medical malpractice cases, so please don’t put off a consultation with a personal injury attorney with experience in complex med mal cases. A skilled medical malpractice attorney will have a team of medical and legal experts on hand to help learn the details of your case and then fight to get you the compensation you deserve following an ER misdiagnosis.