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Common Emergency Room Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

On Behalf of | Dec 10, 2021 | Medical Malpractice

No one plans on going to the emergency room. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 130 million emergency room visits in 2018 alone. Of those, about 35 million were injury-related visits. In more manageable terms, this means that over 40 out of 100 people were admitted to the emergency room that year—an astronomical number.

It’s a given that emergency rooms are necessary. And, given the sheer volume of patients that emergency rooms see, it’s no surprise that physicians, nurses, and administrative staff occasionally make mistakes. However, what few people realize is that emergency room mistakes are quite common. According to one study, over 52% of all “negligent adverse events” in hospitals occur in the emergency room.

Common Reasons for Emergency Room Visits

Emergency rooms treat a wide range of health concerns. However, most emergency room visits are related to one of the following:

  • Back pain,
  • Broken bones,
  • Chest pains,
  • Deep lacerations,
  • Head injuries,
  • Headaches,
  • Respiratory infections,
  • Skin infections,
  • Stomach pains, and
  • Toothaches.

Whatever the reason for your visit to the emergency room, you reasonably assume that the doctors will help. However, some patients unfortunately leave the emergency room worse off than when they entered.

The Most Common Emergency Room Mistakes

Emergency rooms are hectic. Doctors work long shifts and see many patients. Patients also come into the emergency room in varying conditions, requiring doctors to determine which patients need the most immediate treatment. This is undoubtedly a challenging environment to work in; however, that isn’t an excuse to provide inadequate medical care. Below, we touch on some of the most common emergency room mistakes.


Doctors in an emergency setting are responsible for quickly determining a patient’s condition and coming up with an appropriate course of treatment. In most cases, doctors do a good job with this. However, sometimes doctors fail to read a test result correctly or make some other error resulting in a misdiagnosis. Misdiagnoses are incredibly serious because they result in delayed medical treatment, which can exacerbate a patient’s injuries.

Delayed Treatment

Patients go to the emergency room for immediate treatment. However, emergency rooms are notorious for their long wait times. According to the CDC, fewer than 45% of emergency room patients were seen within 15 minutes. However, a recent study revealed that the average wait time to get into a Tennessee emergency room was 91 minutes. Delaying the treatment of a serious condition will often lead to worsening injuries. Emergency rooms are responsible for triaging patients, or determining which patients need immediate medical care and which can afford to wait a few extra minutes. However, if an emergency room doctor fails to note the seriousness of a patient’s condition, they may end up waiting longer than they should.

Medication Errors

Medication errors are especially common in the emergency room context. Emergency room doctors often make a snap judgment regarding a medication without consulting a patient’s full medical history. This can result in a physician administering a medication to a patient that adversely interacts with another medication they are taking. Additionally, given the time pressures of the emergency room, prescription errors can also involve a doctor giving a patient the wrong dose or even the wrong medication altogether.

Failure to Order Necessary Testing

Emergency room doctors often rely on medical testing to determine the proper course of treatment. However, doctors can devise an effective treatment program only if they correctly read these test results. If a rushed or exhausted emergency room doctor misreads a test result, they may fail to appropriately diagnose a patient’s condition.

Negligently Performed Procedures

Many doctors occasionally make mistakes when performing medical procedures. However, in emergency rooms, given the inherent time pressure involved, these mistakes are even more common.

Patient Transportation Errors

If a patient needs to be transferred from one hospital to another, emergency room staff must stabilize the patient before transport. Additionally, hospital staff should transport patients only to other hospitals that have doctors ready to treat the patient; otherwise, they could end up arriving only to wait even longer for the care they need.

Avoiding Emergency Room Mistakes

Heading to the emergency room isn’t exactly something you are prepared for; that’s the very nature of an emergency. However, there are certain steps you can take to reduce the chance of experiencing emergency room mistakes:

  • Keep a copy of your medical records at home,
  • Have someone bring your medical records to the emergency room as soon as possible,
  • Research the emergency rooms around you to determine which are staffed with board-certified emergency doctors,
  • Know which hospitals near you have the shortest wait times,
  • Take notes throughout the check-in process (or have someone take notes for you),
  • Make conversation with nurses and doctors if you feel they are being too brief, and
  • Do not leave the hospital until the attending physician discusses your discharge instructions with you.

Of course, despite taking every possible precaution, some errors are unavoidable from the patient’s perspective. In these cases, patients may have a medical malpractice claim against the negligent provider. However, medical malpractice lawsuits are exceptionally complex and should be handled by lawyers with specific experience in this area.

Contact an Experienced Attorney for Immediate Assistance

If you or a loved one received negligent medical care at an emergency room, reach out to the lawyers at Batson Nolan PLC. At Batson Nolan, we are a full-service law firm with a client-focused culture. Since 1860, Batson Nolan PLC legal team has been helping injury victims pursue the compensation they need and deserve to move on with their lives. We offer all prospective clients a free consultation during which we will answer all your questions and explain how we can help. To learn more and to schedule a free consultation with a medical negligence attorney at Batson Nolan, give us a call. You can also reach us through our online contact form.