Reducing Emergency Room Errors

August 1, 2013

By Nadeem A. Bezar

When a patient is taken to the emergency room, timely and accurate medical care is critical to his or her health and safe recovery. Yet in the rush and chaos of your average ER—many of which are experiencing an influx in patients at the same time they’re dealing with reduced budgets—patients must also serve as their own advocate to help reduce the risk of a medical mistake.

Over the last few months, I have achieved substantial verdicts and settlements for patients who experienced an error during their emergency room visit, and in many cases, the resulting injuries could have been prevented.

Often, these devastating errors are the direct result of poor coordination among the multiple specialists examining a patient. If each physician is only dealing with a limited portion of the complete picture, incomplete information can lead to needless errors.

In other instances, particularly during the busiest hours at an ER, physicians may not spend enough time reviewing their patients’ information, which could include everything from lab work and radiology tests to medical history and information recorded by other healthcare professionals, like nurses.

What it comes down to is ensuring that each patient is diagnosed and treated based on the most complete information available. Each physician sees his or her patients in the brief snapshot of time after an injury. But they must use the valuable findings of other healthcare professionals to appropriately determine the best possible care for each patient’s unique medical issues.

Tips For Reducing The Risk Of Emergency Room Errors

1. Physicians should consider all of the information that is available to them regarding their patient, including multiple sources and complete medical histories.

2. Listening to patients, who ultimately provide the best testimony to their previous care and the injury they sustained, is critical for physicians working in the ER.

3. Since most patients will be seen by more than one physician, they should request the names and contact information of every physician they meet with during their emergency room visit.

4. Patients should provide information on any symptoms, allergies or sensitivities to medication (that they are aware of).
5. In addition to describing their current medications, patients should also tell physicians of any self-medicating practices which differ from those which have been prescribed.

6. Patients should provide a comprehensive history of their health and describe, in detail, all events that occurred following trauma, including loss of consciousness, headache, vomiting and any severe and acute pain.

7. At discharge, patients should always ask questions pertaining to any follow-up appointments or medical care that may be needed.

Eliminating all errors in emergency rooms is likely not possible. But if physicians adhere to stringent standards of care, and if patients and their families aggressively advocate for the health of their loved ones, I am confident we can reduce the frequency of these needless injuries, and save future patients from unnecessary harm.