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Crowded Emergency Rooms Tied to Greater Risk of Misdiagnosis

If you recently needed treatment for an injury or illness, you may have checked into a crowded emergency room. In some cases, medical professionals working in such conditions end up caring for patients in hallways with other people present.

According to a survey of doctors, patients who get care in hallways or other public spaces as a result of crowded emergency rooms may receive a misdiagnosis or treatment delay.

The Challenges Posed by Crowded Emergency Rooms

Reuters news article summarized the findings of the survey, including comments about diagnostic errors from concerned doctors. Ninety percent of doctors surveyed said if another person was present while treating a patient, they would change or shorten their method for taking the patient’s medical history. In addition, they changed how they conducted medical exams.

“What we found is that these non-private encounters not only affect the accurate diagnosis of medical conditions, but also of social and behavioral conditions such as domestic violence, human trafficking, suicidality, and substance use,” according to Dr. Hanni Stoklosa, who was the lead author of the study. The survey of 440 ER doctors was conducted in 2015 during a medical conference in Boston.

Emergency rooms in Syracuse, N.Y., and across the country are often the places where people dealing with serious issues such as domestic violence, suicidal thoughts and others cited by Dr. Stoklosa go for initial treatment. Due to lack of privacy caused by crowded emergency rooms, doctors, alarmingly, are failing to treat these medical conditions accurately.

According to the survey, 75 percent of the doctors said if they treated patients in a hallway, they at least sometimes conducted an abbreviated medical history. Almost all of the physicians surveyed said they also at least sometimes altered the way they conducted physical exams.

Crowded Emergency Rooms and Treatment Problems

What became clear from the survey is that doctors changed the way they treated patients if someone else was present – whether the treatment was in a hallway or in an examination room.

The survey found that at least some of the doctors working in hallways or other non-private areas said they failed to diagnose a number of social issues facing a patient. Here are a few of them:

  • Domestic violence
  • Elder abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Suicidal thinking

According to ScienceDirect, previous studies have examined other problems with crowded emergency rooms, including medical errors and increased patient mortality. When an emergency room is crowded, a patient’s wait time typically is longer, which could lead to medical complications due to a treatment delay.

Often, crowded emergency rooms and understaffing go hand in hand. Sometimes, a doctor does not have the necessary support to provide the best treatment possible. In other cases, a doctor might receive erroneous information from a technician, which could lead to a misdiagnosis.

If you or a loved one was treated in an emergency room and experienced more harm than healing, you may be a victim of negligence. You will need a strong advocate at your side. Contact an attorney at Cherundolo Law Firm, PLLC.  Complete our online contact form for a free and confidential consultation.