Depending on location and timing, an emergency room can be incredibly busy, chaotic space or almost completely empty except for staff. A single incident, like a multi-vehicle pile-up or a large fight at a sports bar, could send more people to the emergency room in a short amount of time than a facility can reasonably manage, regardless of whether a particular shift started in a busy or very slow fashion.
When there are multiple people waiting for diagnosis and treatment at an emergency room, the professionals working there often need to apply triage rules to determine who sees a physician first. There are specific protocols in place, including checking someone’s physical condition to determine the severity of their condition and their likelihood of recovering. Although triage procedures can help professionals to more effectively allocate resources, there are risks and collateral costs associated with prioritizing care for certain people.
Emergency room workers make mistakes
When someone who may only have a few weeks of hands-on experience has to evaluate people in life-or-death situations, they can make severe mistakes. For example, someone unfamiliar with the unique ways in which strokes present in female patients might turn a woman away during a life-threatening neurological event. Individuals may also let their personal biases influence how seriously they take a patient’s self-reported symptoms and how considerate the staff workers are before getting someone in to see a doctor. The possibility of either oversights and biases influencing the standard of care is significant.
The unfortunate truth is that the collateral cost of employing triage procedures when an emergency room is busy may be that someone doesn’t get the care they deserve while others get care quickly when they aren’t truly in need. One patient may suffer a far worse medical outcome because of the diagnostic failures of the emergency room staff caused by personal prejudice, inadequate knowledge or miscommunication.
Patients harmed by bad practices have rights
When a hospital doesn’t have enough people at the emergency room to accept an influx of patients and delays or denies treatment to someone experiencing a major medical event, that person may have a far worse outcome because of what happens in the emergency room than they would if given proper care. Someone dealing with lingering symptoms that may have been resolved with more timely treatment or those grieving the loss of a loved one who died after not receiving appropriate care in an emergency room could take legal action against the facility or professionals who provided inadequate care due to questionable triage practices.
Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit can be a reasonable response when diagnostic failures and delays result in a poor but preventable outcome for a patient.