Emergency room errors are more common than you might think

Illnesses and injuries often don't happen on your family doctor's schedule. Depending on the severity, you may need to go to an emergency room for a diagnosis and treatment instead of waiting for an appointment with your regular doctor.

You expect for the doctors, nurses and the other staff in the emergency room to provide you with the appropriate standard of care. You expect that you will receive an accurate diagnosis of your condition and the right treatment. It's unfortunate that you may be expecting too much. Emergency room errors are more common than you would think.

Why do so many mistakes happen?

You may not find it surprising that most emergency room mistakes occur due to human error. Every so often, equipment failures and other issues may be the cause, but not nearly as often as human error. Emergency rooms are chaotic, and the medical professionals who staff them are under extreme pressure and stress the majority of the time.

Doctors may not take the time needed in order to reach the correct diagnosis. Rushed lab tests could cause faulty results, or the tests could provide the correct results but the doctor reads them incorrectly. In any case, going to the emergency room could result in you suffering more harm. A missed diagnosis or a misdiagnosis could cause you to need additional treatments, including surgery, to correct the problem once another doctor makes an accurate diagnosis.

Can you protect yourself?

You may not have the time or ability to choose the hospital you go to or to where someone takes you. In addition, you probably won't want to take the time to ask about the doctor's credentials. After all, you are there because you perceive your condition to be an emergency in need of immediate care. You don't have time to go hospital or doctor shopping. You must rely on the hospital to take care of those issues for you.

You may upset your nurses, but you could ask them to make sure they keep your room clean. Many people contract serious infections in hospitals, and cleanliness and sterilization practices prove effective in reducing the potential for infection. You may also want to be proactive when it comes to communicating your needs. You don't just have to lie there hoping that someone will take care of you.

An alarming number of patients who visit emergency rooms on Friday nights and weekends are at risk of dying. One study's data showed that patients admitted to hospitals on Saturday and Sundays increased their risk of death by 16 percent over those admitted during the week. Of course, if you could wait until Monday, you would probably make an appointment with your doctor.

What you can do if you suffer harm due to an emergency room error

In many ways, you are at the mercy of the medical staff members in the emergency room. If a hospital worker makes a mistake that causes you harm, you retain the right to seek compensation for your injuries and the financial and other damages you sustained as a result of the substandard care you received.

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Vincent J. DeSalvo, Attorney at Law
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