Godfrey, Leibsle, Blackbourn & Howarth, S.C.
Godfrey, Leibsle, Blackbourn & Howarth, S.C.

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Elkhorn, WI

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Malpractice in emergency rooms

Emergency medical departments are designed to provide immediate life-saving care and treat trauma. A recent report, however, revealed that treatments in emergency departments are the fourth most-common cause of personal injury claims related to medical care because of the unique circumstances surrounding the care that is provided.

Emergency room care provides distinctive medical malpractice risk to health care providers because they are providing care to strangers. This may lead to communication breakdowns. The medical liability insurer Coverys reviewed emergency department claims from 2014 to 2015. According to the report, 56% of claims concerned failure or delay with making a diagnosis. The most cited conditions in legal actions were cardiac or vascular illnesses, which constituted 23% of claims, and infections, which comprised 18& of claims. Diagnostic claims, in particular, revealed breakdowns in emergency room procedures. 44% of those claims showed deficiencies with taking the patient’s initial history and physical examination.

32% of the actions involving emergency departments involved personal injuries, while 38& encompassed severe injury or death. Additionally, 49% of all claims involving medications involved antibiotics, opioids and anticoagulants.

Recommendations were made addressing patient safety issues and dealing with the greatest risks to patients, including assuring that proper patient evaluation takes place by requiring documentation of medical status at specified times. Practice guidelines and other clinical decision methods can assist practitioners with making accurate and timely diagnosis.

Proper communication procedures when patient care is handed off to different emergency personnel must be enforced to avoid miscommunication errors. Procedures assuring accurate communication of outstanding test results to primary care givers and patients are also important.


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