Incorrect Diagnoses Made in Emergency Room

Incorrect Diagnoses Made in Emergency Room

Incorrect Diagnoses Made in Emergency Room

Going to the emergency room is usually an unpleasant experience, but a wrong diagnosis can add stress and delay treatment. In some cases, a misdiagnosis could even lead to permanent damage or a fatal outcome. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis in the emergency room (also called an emergency department or ED) is more common than one might think.

What percentage of diagnoses are false?

A recent report from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality finds that about 6 percent of the roughly 130 million people who seek care in an emergency department each year are misdiagnosed. This means that around 1 in 18 emergency room patients are given an incorrect diagnosis, 1 in 50 experience an adverse event, and 1 in 350 develop permanent disability or die. These numbers are similar to misdiagnosis rates seen in inpatient hospital care or primary care.

What Are the Top Five Conditions That Were Misdiagnosed in Emergency Rooms?

The top five most misdiagnosed conditions in American emergency rooms are:

  • Stroke. A stroke occurs when either a blood clot or hemorrhage blocks blood flow in the brain, interrupting whatever functions that that area of the brain controls. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis of a stroke can have serious consequences. The good news is that stroke symptoms are often reversible – if the patient receives treatment in time. The majority of strokes are caused by a blood clot, and in many cases can be reversed with medication if diagnosed promptly. If a misdiagnosis delays care, the patient could suffer permanent brain damage. Depending on the part of the brain affected, the patient might have permanent difficulty with speech, movement, walking, cognition, memory, or other functions.
  • Myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack. Myocardial infarcation can be caused by a plaque buildup in the coronary arteries leading into the heart. Symptoms can vary, and women are more likely to have atypical symptoms like a sharp pain in the neck, arm, or back. For some people, the first symptom is cardiac arrest – their heart stops beating. Other individuals may have symptoms hours or days before the blockage results in a critical moment. If symptoms are correctly diagnosed and treated early, you have a better chance of avoiding permanent damage to the heart muscle and other complications.
  • Aortic aneurysm/dissection. The aorta is the body’s largest artery, which takes blood from the heart to the rest of the body. An aneurysm occurs when there is a weakened area in the wall of the aorta that begins to bulge. This bulge can lead to a dissection, or a tear in the aorta’s lining. As blood floods through the tear, the middle and outer layers of the aorta may divide, or “dissect,” also known as an aortic dissection. If the outside aortic wall is torn and blood escapes, the condition can be fatal in a short period of time. For this reason, prompt diagnosis of the symptoms of an aortic aneurysm, such as sudden chest or abdominal pain, is essential.
  • Spinal cord compression or injury. The spinal cord is a collection of nerves inside the spine that transmits information between the brain and soft tissues like the muscles. For this reason, many injuries to the spinal cord that result in permanent damage can lead to paralysis or loss of function. Compression refers to pressure on the spinal cord, and it can happen gradually from a process like arthritis, or suddenly due to an injury. With some spinal cord injuries, there is a potential for permanent damage if the spine is not stabilized and the condition treated. If your doctor fails to stabilize the spine and diagnose the issue, you may be at risk of permanent spinal cord damage, which could lead to paralysis.
  • Venous thromboembolism. This  medical term is for a blood clot that develops in a vein. Examples include a deep vein thrombosis or DVT (most commonly a clot in the leg but can occur in the arm or pelvis) and a pulmonary embolism (a DVT that enters the bloodstream and reaches the lungs). An undiagnosed DVT always has the potential to break off and travel to the lungs or other organs, where the clot can quickly create a fatality, so it is crucial to correctly diagnose a clot. 

What Recourse Do You Have After an ED Misdiagnosis?

In Virginia, you have a right to file a claim against a healthcare provider for medical negligence if the healthcare, or lack of it, caused your injury and is outside the standard of care. The law has a number of caveats about who or what is or is not considered a “healthcare provider”. Your doctor or nurse is usually considered a healthcare provider (unless they have an expired license), and a facility like a nursing home is also considered one. Your lawyer will review your case and decide who can be considered your healthcare provider for the purposes of your lawsuit.


Virginia’s Statute of Limitations on Diagnostic Errors in the Emergency Department 

With few exceptions, you have two years from the date of your injury to file a lawsuit for medical negligence in Virginia. One exception is if a foreign object like a surgical sponge or tool is left inside a patient following a surgery. It is not possible for the patient to know this has occurred immediately, even if they suffer continued pain or symptoms, and sometimes obtaining a diagnosis can take time. For this reason, Virginia law allows lawsuits for up to one year following the discovery of the foreign object, or two years, whichever time period is longer. If you have recently discovered a foreign object was left inside your body during surgery, please speak with an attorney right away.

The statute of limitations on malpractice claims involving children is a bit more complex and depends on the age of the child and certain other conditions. If your claim pertains to a minor child, please contact a Virginia malpractice attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options.

Seeking an Expert Opinion

In order to file a lawsuit for medical negligence in Virginia, you will need to submit the written opinion of a medical expert who has reviewed your case and is willing to testify that your injuries were caused by medical malpractice. Finding the right expert for your case can be a challenge, but your medical malpractice attorney will know how to connect with the right expert and seek their opinion on your case. Your lawyer will do so after reviewing your medical records and discussing what happened with you. If the expert agrees that your situation was the result of medical negligence, they will submit a written report and your attorney can file the lawsuit.

What Are the Next Steps After ED Diagnostic Errors?

It can be difficult to know if your injuries were caused by a medical error or simply the result of bad luck or an unavoidable disease process. At Lugar Law, we understand how frightening and frustrating it can be to wonder if your difficulties could have been avoided, and we want to help you find out. Please contact us for a free consultation, and we will be happy to review your case and explain any available options for seeking compensation.