How common is misdiagnosis in the emergency room?

emergency room

When you go to the emergency room, you trust that doctors will listen to your complaints, examine you and formulate a diagnosis and treatment plan, but what if…the diagnosis the doctors make is not correct?

A CNN article highlighting a recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality states that approximately 1 in 18 patients that visit the emergency room will be misdiagnosed. In fact, it was reported that stroke, myocardial infarction (heart attack), aortic aneurysm/dissection, spinal cord compression/injury, and venous thromboembolism (blood clots) were the top five misdiagnosed conditions across hospitals in the United States, accounting for 39% of “all serious misdiagnosis-related harms.”

How can a misdiagnosis happen? Some of the most common causes of misdiagnosis occur due to lack of testing, inexperienced healthcare providers, improperly recorded test results, and failure to follow-up with patients.

Dr. Prashant Mahajan, the Division Chief of Pediatric Emergency Medicine Department of the University of Michigan, opines that misdiagnosis of a patient’s condition can also result from “diagnostic momentum”. This occurs when medical professionals have difficulty viewing patient symptoms from an unbiased perspective because a certain diagnosis has already been “assigned” to a patient. Diagnostic momentum leads to serious medical mistakes that can become life-threatening.

Jake Tapper, CNN’s chief Washington correspondent, went through a terrifying experience due to doctors’ misdiagnosis of his daughter, Alice. Alice, an otherwise healthy and active 15-year-old girl, was rushed to the emergency room due to severe stomach pains. The doctors worked up Alice for food poisoning and gastroenteritis because she was reporting pain across her abdomen. Originally, the doctors did not include appendicitis in their differential diagnosis. However, Alice’s parents suspected otherwise and raised concerns of appendicitis, which was initially ignored. Due to the doctor’s own diagnostic momentum, an excruciatingly stressful three-day hospital stay ensued for the Tapper family. Finally, Alice’s condition was properly diagnosed after her parents made a plea to hospital administration for intervention. Alice had appendicitis all along. The delay in diagnosis meant crucial time was lost and Alice’s appendix had ruptured causing sepsis. What should have been a simple diagnosis, a routine surgery, and a short recovery period, turned into a life-changing event for Alice Tapper and her family. To view the full story, click HERE.

A doctor or medical professional’s mistake when diagnosing a patient can result in lifelong or fatal consequences. If you or a loved one has experienced harm due to a misdiagnosis in the emergency room, reach out to our experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Friedman Schuman today.

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