When an emergency medical issue comes up, the first visit is the emergency room. The emergency department (ED) is where a patient is evaluated and prioritized based on their condition. The most serious cases may go straight to surgery. Less serious conditions may be evaluated with the patient released with medication or instructed to follow up with their regular doctor.
Emergency room doctors see all kinds of patients, from serious trauma, to broken bones, to patients suffering anxiety. Because emergency room (ER) doctors see all types of patients, it is important for these doctors to use their medical training, experience, and education to make the right diagnosis. A wrong diagnosis could result in serious injury or patient death.
ER injuries can be caused by medical mistakes and injury victims should take their case to court. Injury victims and their families should file a medical malpractice claim after a medical error because it holds the hospital accountable for medical negligence and can help improve care for other patients in the future. A malpractice claim can also help you recover damages for the medical injuries. If you have any questions about ER visit injuries, contact our medical malpractice law firm for help.
What Happens in the Hospital Emergency Room
The emergency room is the first stop for people facing a medical emergency. With anything from chest pain, to a head injury, to a gunshot wound, the emergency department evaluates patients and can discharge the patient after treatment or admit the patient to the hospital for further care. Many people have a negative association with the ED as a place where they face long waits, exposure to other sick or ill people, and unresponsive medical care.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 130 million ED visits per year in the U.S. The most common reason for admission to the hospital after an ED visit for adults aged 45-84 was septicemia, an infection in the bloodstream. For minors under the age of 18, the most common reasons for admission include acute bronchitis, asthma, and pneumonia.
People come into the emergency room generally on their own, brought in by friends or family, or transported in an ambulance. When you go into the ER, as a walk-in or with an ambulance, the first step is triage.
Triage and Priorities in the ER
Triage is the process of evaluating the patient’s condition to prioritize those who are most in need of immediate treatment. Getting emergency treatment is not about first-come, first-served. A patient that is evaluated with a more serious condition will be seen before someone with a less serious condition, even if the less-serious patient has been waiting around for hours.
Triage can be based on several factors, including the vital signs of the patient, capacity of the ER, and whether there is a pandemic. The most immediate concerns may include resuscitation emergencies or a stroke. Minutes matter in critical care patients. Even a few minutes without oxygen to the brain can begin to cause damage. This includes patients who have lost a lot of blood, have an obstructed airway, or have a clot preventing blood flow to the brain.
Even if an injury is the source of serious pain, if the patient is not considered as the most urgent risk level, they may find they have to wait until the most serious cases are handled first. High-risk levels include cardiac arrest, major trauma, stroke, myocardial infarction, anaphylaxis, toxic ingestion, and respiratory distress.
Study of Emergency Department Malpractice Claims
In 2021, a research study on ED and urgent care medical malpractice claims was published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine. The study reviewed medical malpractice claims involving adult patients in emergency room and urgent care facilities filed between 2001 and 2015. Over 30% of these ended in settlement or jury trial. The average settlement was $297,709. For the cases that went to a jury, the average liability was $816,909.
According to the study, the most common medical conditions for a malpractice claim were based on cardiac arrest or cardiorespiratory arrest. The most common basis for malpractice claims was diagnostic errors. Diagnostic errors include mistakes a doctor makes in diagnosing the condition of the patient, including misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and failure to diagnose. Unfortunately for the patients in almost 40% of these claims, the doctor’s medical mistake resulted in death.
There were other medical factors cited in the ED malpractice claims, which included improper performance, failure to supervise or monitor a case, and medication errors. Medication errors occur when a doctor prescribes the wrong drug, too much of a drug, or too little of a dose. Medication errors can cause physical injury, delayed recovery, or death.
A heart attack is not the only basis for ER medical malpractice claims. According to the study, the most common medical conditions that were misdiagnosed include:
Just because a medical mistake happens in an emergency room, the ER doctor may not be the only one at fault. Of the claims filed for ER and urgent care malpractice, emergency physicians were the most commonly named specialists responsible for the medical error. However, other doctors named in the lawsuits included internal medicine, family practice, radiology, and general surgery.
Emergency Room Doctors Malpractice
Emergency room doctors have specialized education, training, and clinical experience in emergency medicine. ER doctors have to complete a 3 to 4-year residency under the supervision of certified ER doctors, then become board certified with an Emergency Medicine Initial Certification (EMIC).
ER doctors have to do an overall evaluation of patients and need to understand many areas of medicine. In the ER, these doctors focus on stabilizing patients, treating emergency health concerns, and then can refer patients to specialized care that can further treatment and diagnosis.
Even in an emergency, ER doctors have to provide a certain standard of care. The standard of care is the type of care another reasonable ER doctor would provide under similar circumstances. If the ER doctor deviates from the standard of care and the patient suffers an injury as a result, the doctor may have committed medical malpractice.
Waiting Too Long: Response Time in the ER
Many emergency room injuries are caused by improper evaluation of the patient and delayed treatment. Triage is an important part of emergency medicine and when doctors get it wrong, it can be disastrous. If an ER physician misdiagnoses a patient, the patient may wait needlessly for hours until receiving care. Delayed treatment and delayed diagnosis is a common cause of emergency room malpractice. Wait times and response times can vary by location, time of the year, and even staffing levels.
Emergency Rooms in Chicago
Chicago is one of the biggest cities in the country, and the area hospitals serve thousands of people every day. Emergency rooms in Chicago can have long wait times. The largest hospitals in Chicago include:
ProPublica is a nonprofit investigative journalism organization that has compiled emergency room data for cities across the country, including Chicago. Their ER Inspector search tool allows users to see the average wait times for patients before they are sent home, before admission, and the percentage of patients who leave without ever being seen. There is also data based on the number of ER violations related to ER care since 2015. The following is ER Inspector information for the area’s 3 largest hospitals.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Average time between arrival at the ER and being sent home: 4 hours 49 minutes
Average time to admission to the hospital: 6 hours 57 minutes
Average time before being taken to a hospital room: 8 hours 51 minutes
Percentage of patients who leave without being seen: 3%
ER volume: Very high (more than 60,000 patients per year)
Rush University Medical Center
Average time between arrival at the ER and being sent home: 3 hours 12 minutes
Average time to admission to the hospital: 6 hours 17 minutes
Average time before being taken to a hospital room: 9 hours 13 minutes
Percentage of patients who leave without being seen: 4%
ER volume: Very high (more than 60,000 patients per year)
Average time between arrival at the ER and being sent home: 3 hours 40 minutes
Average time to admission to the hospital: 7 hours 18 minutes
Average time before being taken to a hospital room: 10 hours 24 minutes
Percentage of patients who leave without being seen: 6%
ER volume: Very high (more than 60,000 patients per year)
Baltimore Emergency Departments
Maryland has more than 6 million residents, with more than 70 hospitals and medical centers. The Baltimore area alone has more than a dozen hospitals and emergency departments, serving patients from Baltimore and the surrounding areas. Baltimore and Baltimore County hospitals include:
- Franklin Square Medical Center
- Good Samaritan Hospital of Maryland
- Greater Baltimore Medical Center
- Harbor Hospital
- University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic
- Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center
- Johns Hopkins Hospital
- Kennedy Krieger Institute
- Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center & Hospital
- Mercy Medical Center
- Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital
- Northwest Hospital
- St. Agnes Hospital
- University of Maryland, St. Joseph Medical Center
- Sheppard & Enoch Pratt Hospital
- Sinai Hospital of Baltimore
- Spring Grove Hospital Center
- Union Memorial Hospital
- University of Maryland Medical Center
- University of Maryland Medical Center, Midtown
- VA Maryland Healthcare System
Wait times can vary by hospital, time of day, reason for care, and other factors. Many patients face wait times of 4 or more hours, even for emergency medical conditions. For example, according to ProPublica, The average time between arriving at the ER and being sent home for the Johns Hopkins Hospital was 4 hours and 7 minutes. However, the average time between arriving at the hospital and being taken to a room was almost 16 hours!
In contrast, the emergency department at Northwest Hospital Center in Randallstown had an average sent-home time of almost 5 hours. However, when patients were admitted, they were admitted in an average of under 8 hours, and taken to a room in over 10 hours. These are average times, and some patients may end up waiting much longer to be seen, sent home, or admitted to the hospital.
Philadelphia ER Times
According to hospitalstats.org, the average ER wait times in Philadelphia can be for 4 hours or more. Areas with shorter wait times may be further away, in places like Chestnut Hill, King of Prussia, or Cherry Hill. However, when there is an emergency, the patient may not have time to travel 30 minutes away. Once a patient arrives at an ER, they will usually just have to put up with the wait times, even if another hospital ER is almost empty.
One of the largest emergency rooms in Philadelphia is the ER of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Located in University City in West Philadelphia, the HUP ER sees more than 72,000 patients a year. The ED is made up of a 28,000 square foot department, including trauma resuscitation, negative pressure rooms, psychiatric evaluation, patient care rooms, and Fast Track areas. Other emergency departments in the Philly area include:
- Jeanes Hospital
- Nazareth Hospital
- Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
- Kindred Hospital
- Jefferson Frankford Hospital
- Temple University Hospital
- Chestnut Hill Hospital
- Roxborough Memorial Hospital
- Penn Presbyterian Medical Center
- Kindred Hospital South
- Temple University Children’s Hospital
- Hahnemann University Hospital
- Mercy Philadelphia Hospital
- Pennsylvania Hospital
Hospital Acquired Infections in the ER
Putting a bunch of sick people together in an enclosed space can be dangerous. As the world was reminded during the COVID-19 pandemic, some viruses are highly transmissible and can spread through breathing, coughing, or sneezing. When the emergency room does not take precautions to reduce the risk of spreading infection, it may cause an ER patient to come down with a hospital-acquired infection (HAI).
As a result of healthcare-associated infections, a patient going into the ER for a broken leg or dog bite injury could come out with tuberculosis, staph infection, or Legionnaires’ disease. These infections are not always just based on chance exposure. HAIs can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungus based on improper medical care, including:
- Failing to properly isolate infectious patients
- Failing to properly clean and sanitize medical equipment
- Failing to clean and monitor HVAC systems
- Delayed diagnosis of infectious diseases
According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the 5 most common hospital-associated infections include:
- Surgical-site infection
- Gastrointestinal infection
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Primary bloodstream infections
Next Steps After an ER Visit Injury
You don’t have to be 100% sure that your ER visit injury was caused by medical malpractice. It’s common not to be sure about the reason behind a medical injury. Many injury victims end up living with the consequences even if they have the legal right to recover compensation. The next step after an ER visit injury is to contact a medical malpractice attorney.
An experienced medical malpractice lawyer can evaluate your injuries and help you determine whether or not you have a claim to recover the cost of medical treatment, loss of compensation, and money for pain and suffering. Talk to experienced trial attorneys who can review your case, get an expert’s review, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim after a medical malpractice injury. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.