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Just how common are emergency room errors? Why do they happen?

Emergency room errors are surprisingly common across the United States. It’s believed that between 5% and 10% of all emergency room visits are subject to a medical mistake of some kind.

With over 100 million emergency room visits a year, that means that there could be as many as 10 million mistakes. It’s particularly troublesome in emergency rooms, because patients there may be at the greatest risk of serious injury or death and already be in a weakened state.

What are the most common emergency room mistakes?

The most common emergency room mistakes include:

  • Medication errors
  • Failing to take patients’ symptoms seriously
  • Misdiagnosis

For example, a young woman who comes into an emergency room complaining of chest pain might be written off as having a panic attack, but a closer look might show that she’s actually having a heart attack. If the patient isn’t given the right tests, then she could be misdiagnosed and released, which potentially could lead to her death.

Why do these kinds of mistakes happen in emergency rooms?

Emergency rooms are busy places where there is a potential for extremely stressful days and nights. Despite that, emergency rooms are chronically understaffed and may not have access to all the equipment needed for a diagnosis on the spot. Overcrowding, another serious problem, may meant that the doctors and nurses have to split their time among far too many patients.

Rushing from one patient to another means that everyone receives attention, but the medical team may not spend enough time with the patients to really understand their symptoms or background. This may lead to serious, even deadly, mistakes.

What should you do if you have to go to an emergency room?

If you have to go to the emergency room, be sure of your symptoms. Write them down and be assertive. Let the medical team know what’s happening and know which medications you’re on, your medical history and how long this problem has been bothering you. Don’t downplay your symptoms, either. By being an advocate for your health, you’ll have a better chance of getting the help you need. If the team doesn’t seem to want to listen, go seek a second opinion.