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Emergency room errors present a risk of significant injury to patients

Overcrowded hospital emergency rooms present a significant risk of injury to patients because of long waits for treatment and the poor quality of care.

Recently, the New York Daily News reported that nearly two-hour waits and overcrowding were "endangering patients" sent to the emergency room of Weiler/Einstein Hospital. Complaints about the Bronx hospital's emergency room had increased since a Propublica.org report ranked the operator of the hospital, Montefiore Medical Center, as the second worst in New York State for ER wait times. The New York State Nurses Association president, in commenting on the situation at Weiler/Einstein Hospital, said that ER nurses realize that "long wait times, overcrowding and placing admitted patients in hallways" result in jeopardizing patients' lives.

Overcrowded emergency rooms have been a problem for years. Unfortunately, the problem persists resulting in acts of medical malpractice which harm patients seeking treatment for their ailments. An article in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine concludes that overcrowding in emergency rooms impacts greatly on the quality of care provided to patients. Overcrowded ERs result in medication errors, delays in laboratory testing, and missed or wrong diagnoses. Delays in providing medication may mean prolonged and excruciating pain for patients. Moreover, patients are often shunted off to an obscure corner of an ER where their condition cannot be properly monitored and IV lines and vital signs may not be checked in a timely fashion.

Amid the confusion and chaos of an overcrowded ER, doctors and nurses sometimes do not observe a patient's deteriorating condition. Having doctors and nurses treat so many patients lead to staff fatigue and burnout thereby increasing the chance for errors and incorrect diagnosis. The hygiene of the hospital's staff is often woefully lacking as doctors and nurses can forget to wash their hands while they scramble from one patient to another. The failure to follow hygienic protocols can lead to a risk of patient infections. Poor initial care in the ER can also result in lengthier-and more costly-stays in the hospital.

Last year, Reuters reported on a medical study which suggests that being treated for a heart attack in an overcrowded ER can possibly lead to posttraumatic stress disorder thereafter leaving a permanent "mark on patient's mental health." One of the study's authors observed that if you are seeking treatment for a heart attack in an urban ER, you will likely encounter everything from babies loudly crying and wailing to moaning patients piled up in the hallways awaiting treatment. Under such chaotic conditions, heart attack patients can be severely traumatized thereby increasing their risk for another heart attack within a few years.

Signs of overcrowding

The American College of Emergency Physicians observes that some of the telltale signs of overcrowding are:

  • Patients being treated in hallways.
  • Hospitals diverting or sending away ambulances.
  • Patients boarded in ERs due to lack of inpatient beds.
  • Patient care that does not meet the quality standards of the community.

It is suggested that if you find yourself in an overcrowded ER, speak up if you feel that your condition is significantly worsening. A sudden critical change in a patient's condition can easily go unnoticed amid the confusion of an overcrowded ER.

Seeking compensation

If you believe that you or a loved one have suffered injury due to ER medical malpractice, you are advised to contact a New York attorney experienced in handling medical malpractice cases. Medical malpractice cases are often complex. An attorney will be glad to discuss your situation, review your medical records and advise you on how to proceed in seeking compensation for any injuries you have sustained.

Keywords: emergency room errors, overcrowding, ER, medical malpractice

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