Emergency Medicine Malpractice Lawyer in Washington, D.C.: Helping Victims Receive Justice

Hospital emergency departments are busy places. Medical personnel are expected to screen and treat people with a wide variety of conditions quickly and efficiently. The hectic pace and large numbers of patients inevitably lead to mistakes, some of which are preventable. The consequences of these preventable mistakes can be catastrophic to patients and their families.

When a doctor or other medical staff in an emergency department fails to provide a sufficient standard of care to a patient, and the patient is harmed, the patient may have a claim for medical malpractice. Victims of medical malpractice may be able to recover damages for their pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical expenses.

At The Abelson Law Firm, we represent victims of emergency department medical malpractice and their families, to help ensure that they receive the compensation they deserve.

How Medical Malpractice can Happen in Hospital Emergency Departments

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 136.3 million people in the United States visit emergency rooms every year. More than 40 million of these patients receive treatments for injuries and 2.1 million result in admission to the critical care unit. The CDC reports that there are 43.3 visits for every 100 patients. With this many visits annually, it’s inevitable that accidents and oversights will happen and lead to patient harm. Here are a few ways that occurs, drawn from case studies and studies collected by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality:

Triage Errors

People visit hospital emergency departments for a variety of reasons, some severe, and others which feel like an emergency to the patient, but are not. Healthcare workers at the emergency department must triage patients to decide who needs care most urgently. People with immediate, life-threatening conditions are treated first, while people who are stable are made to wait. This makes sense. But, sometimes, the triage process breaks down and a person who needs immediate medical attention ends up waiting for care. That delay can result in damaging health complications for the patient.

As this account of a triage miss in an emergency department suggests, crowding in emergency departments can be a significant contributing factor to triage errors. Which is why hospitals urge patients not to use the emergency department as their primary care doctor. Unfortunately, many patients lack access to healthcare alternatives, meaning crowded emergency departments and triage errors will continue.

Communication Errors

Another account of an emergency department failure describes how breakdowns in communication between EMS services and emergency department personnel can lead to damaging health outcome for a patient. In the case, a woman called 911 to report chest pressure and EMS were dispatched to her home. On the ride to the hospital, the EMS technicians failed to send electrocardiogram data showing the woman was having a heart attack ahead to the hospital, and a triage nurse decided to ignore the EMS team’s diagnosis of a heart attack because of this lack of data. This led to a delay in the hospital emergency department activating a procedure to provide adequate treatment. The patient lived but suffered severe heart damage as a result of the delay in care.

Diagnostic Errors Lead to Improper Treatment

When a mistaken diagnosis leads to aggressive intervention, such as a surgery, the results can be tragic. Take this report, for example, of a case in which doctors misdiagnosed a patient as having a small bowel obstruction and recommended emergency surgery. The patient suffered cardiac arrest during surgery and died a short time later. Had the doctors diagnosed the patient correctly (she had a history of pancreatitis, which was the likely cause of her symptoms), surgery would not have been recommended.

Interruptions, Multitasking, and Fatigue

A 2018 study suggests that interruptions, multitasking, and fatigue can lead to a significant increase in prescribing errors among emergency physicians. Considering the hectic environment and potentially heavy caseload physicians face, and the long shifts they work, these findings suggest patients in emergency departments run a higher-than-average risk of receiving inappropriate medicine or treatment.

Emergency Physician Competence

Some doctors are more skilled than others. That isn’t surprising. But a 2013 joint UK-Australian study showed that in the emergency department a doctor’s skill can have a significant effect the quality of the doctor’s diagnosis of an emergency medical condition, especially when limited patient information is available. The 2018 study above also suggested that a physician’s working cognitive memory (WCM) can play a role in determining how well the physician responds to interruptions, multitasking, and fatigue. The better the WCM, the fewer mistakes the physician tends to make. Having competent doctors in emergency rooms seems all the more important when you consider that even skilled doctors have been found to misdiagnose some difficult-to-spot conditions, such as ischemic stroke, on a far-too-regular basis.

Emergency Medicine Malpractice Lawyer in Washington, D.C.

In today’s world of complicated healthcare decisions and health insurance difficulties, we rely—perhaps over-rely—on hospital emergency departments to provide appropriate and timely care for patients. Most of them do. Unfortunately, in part because of a strained healthcare system, waiting room overcrowding, communication errors, and an often stressful and chaotic working environment for medical professionals, sometimes patients do not receive the care they need and deserve.

When a patient is harmed as a result of emergency department error, it can be important to find help from an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can investigate the case while the patient focuses on recovering. A skilled attorney can evaluate whether a negative health outcome is the result of a healthcare provider error, and can identify the parties who should be held accountable.

If you or a loved one has recently visited a hospital emergency department and the outcome was poor, Michael A. Abelson at The Abelson Law Firm may help. He represents patients and their families across the greater Washington, D.C., metro area. His goal is to ensure that if you or a loved one is the victim of medical malpractice in an area hospital emergency department, that you receive the compensation you deserve.

For a free consultation, contact us today online or call (202) 331-0600.


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