Often chaotic and overcrowded, with scant data available about new patients, the emergency room is among the top hospital departments responsible for malpractice suits—and diagnostic errors account for 37% to 55% of cases in studies of closed claims.
The average payments and legal expenses for ER cases have more than doubled over the past two decades, according to the Physician Insurers Association of America, a nonprofit trade association whose members cover about 60% of emergency physicians. This Wall Street Journal article explores pilot programs in different hospitals across the United States working to make corrective changes in emergency room procedures.
Changes include adopting new triage systems to ensure doctors and nurses jointly see at-risk patients soon after they arrive, requiring physicians and nurses to huddle to make sure no information is overlooked, and using time-outs at discharge to prevent patients with unresolved problems from leaving the ER.
Some interesting points to note, emphasizing the impact emergency room care and costs have upon health care in the United States:
- Insurance broker Aon Corp. estimates malpractice suits arising from emergency-room incidents in 2009 alone will cost hospitals $1 billion.
- While emergency-room errors often happen because a doctor misjudges symptoms, in almost all cases of missed or delayed diagnoses essential pieces of information weren’t available at the time the doctor made a decision, according to Dana Siegal, program director of risk-management services for Crico/RMF Strategies, whose parent company insures hospitals affiliated with Harvard University. Crico/RMF is working with 16 hospitals on a project to improve communication between doctors and nurses. Mannequins will be used to simulate various emergencies, and participants discuss what could have been done differently.
- The changes to emergency-room systems come as ERs face a growing work load. In a survey released last month, the American College of Emergency Physicians said 80% of its members are reporting increased visits to emergency rooms and more than 90% expect increases next year.
- David Seaberg, president-elect of the group, says a growing shortage of primary-care physicians is driving many patients to the ER.