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Death Resulting from Failures to Properly Diagnose Conditions in Emergency Rooms

Philip Freidin

A substantial part of our practice involves representing gravely damaged people or their families in cases of death resulting from failures to properly diagnose conditions in emergency rooms. Most of our cases involve missed or improperly treated strokes, heart attacks, aortic dissections, aneurysms, infections, spinal cord issues, and even some cancers.

So it didn’t surprise us to read about a recently released study from the Agency of Healthcare Research and Quality which found that out of about 130 million annual American ER visits there are approximately 7.8 million missed diagnoses. That’s about 6%. The study was conducted by Johns Hopkins Medical School researchers.

Of the 7.8 million misdiagnosed cases annually, about 370,000 patients were damaged. Overall, though that’s about 0.3% of every visit. Accordingly, emergency room visits are relatively safe.

But that depends on what brings you to the ER since the most common mistakes, according to the study, are more complicated cases that don’t exactly fit with common presenting patterns. That means it could be that ER visits when you have one of those problems are relatively risky. The vast majority of problems presenting in Emergency Rooms are either trivial or are easily identified and treated.

Not surprising is that the study found that women and people of color had a 20-30% higher chance of becoming victims of ER malpractice. The study was mostly a review of European and Canadian ER rooms, so we don’t know if there’s a proven correlation between patients getting substandard care and lack of insurance, though we suspect that to be true.

Here are some suggestions to improve your chances in the ER based on our review of thousands of Miami malpractice cases:

1) Be friendly and cooperative. Patients who start out angry at the system often get treated poorly.

2) If you can, bring along someone who can speak for you and why will be a good listener. It is always helpful to have an advocate with you.

3) Despite number one above, be assertive when necessary. Speak out if you think you are being ignored, if the diagnosis doesn’t make sense to you, or if you don’t think you should be sent home. Ask for explanations and if you don’t understand, ask for it to be repeated in lay language. Make sure the doctor fully understands your history. Often doctors and nurses half listen; or listen for cues to put your case into a basket of their pre-existing beliefs.

4) Google your symptoms, and if they show something dangerous bring it up to the doctor and/or nurse by saying, “Doctor could this be a stroke? I read on Google that a severe headache might mean stroke.”

5) They will always give you discharge instructions that say come back if anything changes or you get worse. Follow those instructions! And don’t wait too long to do it.

We at Freidin Brown believe patient advocacy is the best real time antidote to careless medical care. If you or someone you know suffered damage as a result of a hospital error, give us a call right away to learn about your rights. Our Florida medical malpractice lawyers are standing by and ready to help.

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