Most doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel are well-trained and conscientious. But of all the stressful medical workplaces, emergency rooms are the most stressful.
Patients come in according to no plan, so that it’s hard to regulate the workflow.
Patients bring medical problems that are completely unpredictable.
Patients sometimes are accompanied by tearful or hysterical family members who distract and occupy the time of the ER staff.
The patient’s medical history often isn’t available, nor much information about what exactly caused the injury. Ambulance personnel do provide a certain amount of such information, and there are procedures for this transfer of information and responsibility, but mistakes can still happen.
Sometimes, emergency rooms are under-staffed, or partially staffed by substitute personnel covering for the more experienced scheduled personnel.
Sometimes they’re under-equipped, or equipment breaks down, so that you must wait until equipment is available.
In their rush to get everything done, communication between emergency room staff may be neglected, so medications are missed or given twice
The lab may be overloaded so that test results are delayed, allowing your condition to deteriorate in the meantime.
In all this welter of sudden arrivals, hurried decisions, and missing or unreliable information, it’s not surprising that mistakes happen. Unfortunately, sometimes, the emergency room patients needlessly suffer because of those mistakes.
A wrong diagnosis, made in the rush of treating your problem so the doctor can move on to the next patient, can lead to subsequent errors, such as:
- Wrong medications
- Failure to conduct appropriate tests
- Mis-focused blood tests
- Misinterpretation of test results
In this way, errors can be heaped on errors, so that at some point, a severe decline in your condition can endanger your life.
When time is short, shortcuts are sometimes taken.
- Hands may be inadequately washed
- Incision sites poorly swabbed
- Instruments forgotten when the sterilizer is run
- Dressing changes may be delayed
Once an infection gets started, it can spread quickly. If you’re lying on a gurney waiting to be taken somewhere, the orderly who shows up to wheel you there may not notice the spreading discoloration or seepage under the sheet. The X-ray technician may not need to uncover that particular area to do his work. You may go several hours before someone notices the infection.
Blood transfusion errors
Sometimes errors are made in matching blood or in an emergency, incompletely matched blood might be used. Or the blood bank may issue the wrong unit of blood for you. If you’re given the wrong type of blood in a transfusion, complications can happen quickly.
- Chills and fever
- Backache or other aches and pains
- Hives and itching
- Hemolysis (blood cell destruction), which gives you shortness of breath, severe headache, and chest or back pain
- Blood in the urine
If you ever suspect that you’ve been given the wrong blood type, don’t be shy about telling someone. Tell everyone you see until something’s done, because our bodies don’t adapt to the wrong blood type.
A patient rushed into an emergency room for one obvious problem may have several other medical problems. In the haste to treat the presenting problem, and without the time to get a full medical history, a doctor could miss or misinterpret symptoms.
If you’re bleeding profusely, in great pain from broken bones, or even in a coma, these severe conditions may be dealt with quickly and well, but other conditions such as cancer, recent stroke, or diabetes could go undiagnosed.
Doctors must write prescriptions in a hurry in emergency rooms. The next patient is in dire need of help and though most doctors pay attention and do their best, they can get tired and overwhelmed, they might have insufficient information about the patient, and so they sometimes write an inappropriate prescription.
The nurse who administers the medication may misread the doctor’s scrawl. Perhaps a wrong dose is given, or too much time elapses before the next dose. Allergies are often unknown or overlooked.
In 2003, the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) released the results of a large study on medication errors in emergency rooms. They found 3 main types of errors:
- Prescription errors – failure to prescribe the right medication
- Omission errors – failure to administer a prescribed medication
- Improper dosage errors – incorrect dose of the medication is given
A little self-protection
You can protect yourself to some extent from medical errors by keeping in your wallet or purse:
- A list of your regular medications and dosages
- A list of your allergies, if any
- Your blood type, if you know it
There may be redress available
If you’ve been harmed by an emergency room error, or if you’ve lost a loved one because of a mistake in the ER, you might be eligible to receive compensation. The first step is to talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Attorneys such as those at Harvey L. Walner and Associates, LTD in Chicago, Illinois can assess the particular circumstances of your case and decide what sort of action will most likely redress your injury or loss.