When Florida residents seek immediate medical care, they expect to be properly and timely evaluated, diagnosed, and treated. Trust is one of the central features of patient-doctor relationships as patients rely on doctors to help them make life-saving decisions.
The worrying reality is that medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., researchers at Johns Hopkins say. Simply put, your hospital may be hazardous to your health.
In Miami-Dade, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rated three hospitals with the lowest rating of one star in 2016's overall hospital quality rating.
The three hospitals were:
- The University of Miami Hospital
- North Shore Medical Center
- Jackson Memorial Hospital
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regarding emergency department operations, over 135 million Americans visit an emergency room each year. But what's missing from some emergency rooms is a danger sign. According to BMJ Quality and Safety, the emergency room is one of the top departments of a hospital where medical malpractice occurs, with medical errors affecting at least one in 20 Americans who visit the E.R.
It is essential to understand what medical errors are and what steps you can take after medical errors occur:
- Diagnostic error is "the failure to establish an accurate and timely explanation of a patient's health problems or communicate that explanation to the patient" (definition by the Academy of Medicine).
- Medical error is "an act of omission or commission in planning or execution that contributes or could contribute to an unintended result" (Grober, Ethan D., and Bohnen, John M.A, "Defining Medical Error", Canadian Journal of Surgery).
Pneumothorax and Medical Errors
Pneumothorax is a condition that:
- Occurs when air escapes from the lungs and gets trapped in the pleural cavity.
- More often than not, it will happen when on the surface of the lung bursts a small bleb or bulla like a blister.
- Will leave a small tear on the outer part of the lung, allowing air to leak into the space between the lung and the chest wall.
- This condition is more accurately known as spontaneous pneumothorax.
Pneumothorax may develop as a result of other health complications. This type of pneumothorax is known as a secondary spontaneous pneumothorax and can accompany other lung diseases such as:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Lung cancer
Additionally, it can be the result of injury to the chest, which may be sustained by something such as:
- A car crash
- A surgical operation
Regarding the symptoms of pneumothorax, the condition will often materialize without much warning. The general appearance of symptoms can range from normal to sharp:
- Stabbing pain developing suddenly on one side of the chest
- An increase of pain when breathing in
- Shortness of breath, often worse the larger the pneumothorax is
- Anxiety, cough, and vague chest symptoms
Delayed Diagnosis - Does It Amount to Medical Negligence?
Pneumothorax often does not need medical intervention. However, if the bulla does not heal, the pneumothorax will steadily increase in size. This could lead to a severe and potentially life-threatening condition. To prevent this from happening, a pneumothorax deemed to be significant in size should be treated by aspirating the air.
Spontaneous pneumothorax is usually recurrent, and a patient should be warned of the possibility of similar episodes occurring in the future. If someone does once again present with symptoms of pneumothorax, they should seek medical advice without delay, as their condition could have deteriorated. When spontaneous pneumothorax requires urgent management, patients receive advice to go immediately to ER, but medical errors can occur in the different stages of emergency room procedures.
We aim to illustrate the medical errors that can take place in the ER using the case of one of the clients we have successfully represented in a pneumothorax malpractice case:
Emergency Room Medical Errors in the Performance and Interpretation of Diagnostic Tests
Medical errors can include:
- Failure to review previous documentation
- Problems with the history or physical examination
- Problems ordering the appropriate diagnostic tests for further workup
Case study: Our client arrived at the ER with documents proving she suffered a spontaneous pneumothorax, a diagnosis provided by her primary doctor. The check-in personnel refused to record the diagnosis because it didn't come directly from a doctor. Our client's urgent treatment was delayed more than an hour due to these administrative demands and a shift change.
Our client's treatment was further delayed when the emergency physicians had difficulties interpreting the initial CT from her primary doctor and ordered a new set of tests.
Medical Errors in the Procedures Performed by Emergency Physicians
Case study: The emergency physicians managed our client's spontaneous pneumothorax by inserting a standard chest tube. This procedure was the wrong choice of treatment, and it led to the lung re-expanding too fast and the tube tearing the lung. Due to this mistake, our client underwent surgery to have her lung repaired. The doctors who performed the emergency procedure on our client were not lung specialists.
Emergency room doctors work around the clock, and they don't always have the expertise to treat patients with unique conditions. A patient's outcome could be even worse when suffering from other severe conditions, such as brain injuries, serious burns, or rare heart conditions.
Case study: Our client's at-home recovery progressed well without any problems for about a month. After that, she was scheduled to travel to Guadalajara. Before traveling:
- She went for checkups with every single doctor the hospital required her to see
- They all assured her she was able to travel
- The doctors said that her collapsed lung would not cause any future health complications
After two weeks in Guadalajara, just a day before being scheduled to fly back to the US, her lung collapsed for the second time. Our client had to go to the hospital in Guadalajara, where she was hospitalized for 23 days and underwent two additional surgeries.
Common Causes of Medical Errors
Medical errors in the ER involve a large variety of common diseases and have significant potential for harm. The frequency of medical errors is unknown; however, malpractice studies have found that 47% of ER claims are due to medical errors.
So what about the ER makes a misdiagnosis or medical error more likely to occur?
- The staff at many hospitals and other emergency medical care facilities must make critical decisions about which patients to see first, especially when waiting rooms get crowded.
- Assessing the relative condition of patients becomes more difficult and increases the risk of injury when emergency care facilities are understaffed, and they delay obtaining full medical histories and ordering necessary tests.
- Shift changes can also cause delays in diagnosis and treatment.
- For patients who need special care in the emergency room, the dearth of specialists available on an on-call basis could force hospitals to delay care or transfer patients to another hospital.
Contact Miami Medical Malpractice Attorney, Sean M. Cleary
It is often difficult for patients to evaluate whether they have grounds for a case.
The best way to find out if you have a case is to consult with an attorney who has extensive experience in medical malpractice work.
At The Law Offices of Sean M. Cleary, you can obtain objective and unbiased opinions if your potential case can be pursued:
- Given our expertise in the field, we can quickly assess if you have a meritorious claim.
- We also always consult with experienced and highly qualified medical experts.