Emergency rooms are on the front lines of patient care. They're where many people turn when they're experiencing strange or frightening symptoms.
Unfortunately, emergency room doctors often make mistakes in their diagnosis. In fact, one study reported that around 65 percent of the medical malpractice claims associated with emergency care were related to that issue. Even worse, 39 percent of the missed diagnoses eventually led to the patient's death.
What causes a damaging misdiagnosis in the emergency room? The most common culprits include the following:
- A doctor fails to request the right diagnostic exams to rule out a more serious condition.
- There's a general failure to obtain a full medical history from the patient.
- The exam of the patient is inadequate.
- Appropriate testing is done, but a doctor or technician misreads the results.
- The hospital doesn't request a consultation from a specialist when needed.
The most common errors all seem to come from the same issue: a lack of time. Doctors and other hospital personnel end up rushing through examinations and miss things they shouldn't. In some areas, the influx of patients may make it hard for the hospital staff to keep up -- and that puts every patient at risk of a missed diagnosis.
According to the study, an excessive workload is clearly behind 23 percent of missed diagnoses. However, there were, on average, 2 to 3 errors that contributed to each missed diagnosis.
This kind of information should serve as a warning for anyone who ends up in an emergency room. Do everything you can to avoid a misdiagnosis by taking all your medications (or a list of them) with you. Have someone with you to help provide your medical history and generally act as your advocate if you aren't getting appropriate care. If you aren't convinced that a doctor's diagnosis is correct, don't be afraid to speak up or seek a second opinion as soon as possible. The life you save could be your own.