Overcrowded Emergency Rooms Increase Potential For Errors

A shortage of primary care doctors is one factor pushing more to the emergency room. The United States will have a shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians by 2020, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges.

This may explain why many healthcare leaders find their emergency departments overcrowded. Of those leaders, 51 percent worry that this will jeopardize patient safety, according to a recent report released by HealthLeaders Media. Supporting the concerns of health industry leaders, a government survey found that from 1997 to 2007 the number of emergency rooms visits increased by 23 percent to 117-million visits.

It is not solely the uninsured that seek treatment at the ER, many insured patients may not have a regular primary care doctor or have insurance that medical practices do not accept.

Addressing the Increasing Problem

Because some patients view the ER as their only option, hospitals must find ways to address the problem. Some hospitals are working to better serve ER patients through fast tracking for less serious injuries or streamlining the registration process.

In the chaos of an overcrowded ER, errors by emergency room physicians can easily occur. The time constraints associated with seeing many patients is one explanation for mistakes. In order to accommodate all patients, doctors cannot spend much time with each patient and might fail to ask enough questions to make a proper diagnosis.

Rushed physicians may also confuse patients or medical records and write incorrect prescriptions. For instance, if a correct patient’s medical record is not reviewed a drug could be prescribed that has a negative reaction with a current medication or causes an allergic reaction.
Advanced electronic health record systems may be one way to ensure that a patient’s medical history is accessible.

Another novel approach is for patients to text the ER to learn wait times. Hundreds of patients have uses the texting service at a medical center in the Boston area.

When a Mistake Occurs

Although doctors are able to treat many patients in a safe manner, mistakes are still a possibility. This occurs when a doctor acts in a negligent manner or fails to provide an adequate duty of care.

Following an error, the injured patient is not without remedy. An experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney can assess your individual situation and fight to make sure you are treated fairly. Monetary damages may be available to compensate for out-of-pocket medical expenses, missed work and pain and suffering.