An emergency department can be a chaotic place, especially on busy nights. One of the ways that staff brings order to all of this chaos is through triage. So what is triage? Essentially, it’s the framework by which emergency room staff prioritize patients and decide on care. An improper triage can lead to negative outcomes for the patient and potentially result in a medical malpractice lawsuit. So how does triage play out in a real-world environment, and what can go wrong?

What Do Triage Techniques Look Like?

When you arrive in the emergency department, your case is assessed by the hospital staff, usually, a registered nurse. Some cases require immediate action and are given priority. For instance, if a patient is unconscious and not breathing, something must be done immediately to resuscitate them. This patient will be given priority over people with less serious conditions, like a severe headache, even if they arrived first.

How Can Triage Go Wrong?

Emergency department staff need to make snap decisions when new patients come in. However, there is a lot of room for error here. This could include not having enough information, getting patients confused, and not following the hospital’s best practices. Mistakes can happen even at hospitals with a good reputation. Unfortunately, patients are the ones who pay the price and suffer the consequences.

Where Does Triage Go Wrong?

A number of things can go wrong during the triage process. This is especially true when a hospital does not have in place best triage practices for better E.D. functionality. Some common issues that lead to medical malpractice in the emergency department include:

  • Unattended patients. In extremely busy ERs, patients may be left unattended for long periods of time as others are seen to. This could result in their condition worsening and other complications. Consequences may be severe if the patient came in needing immediate care.
  • Administering medication improperly. This form of medical malpractice may involve a patient getting the wrong medicine or one meant for someone else or a patient given an incorrect dosage. It could also involve administering medicine that the patient is highly allergic to.
  • Unsanitary conditions. Emergency departments can get messy, but it’s vital that they are cleaned up promptly and held to hospital standards of hygiene. Unsanitary ED conditions can lead to infections, the spread of illnesses, and other problems.
  • Failure to treat uninsured patients. This is commonly known as ‘patient dumping.’ It may also occur with underinsured patients or those who cannot find their insurance card at that time.
  • Misdiagnosis. This could involve overworked ED staff who miss symptoms or diagnose an incorrect condition. Malpractice here can put the patient on a long journey of unnecessary procedures while their original condition continues to deteriorate.
  • Releasing a patient prematurely. In this case, it may involve a patient being released too soon, for instance, due to a paperwork issue. The patient may have been released before receiving a diagnosis or adequate care. Finally, the patient may have been released without proper instructions for a medication plan or self-care during the recovery period.

The Necessity of a Medical Expert Witness

In a fast-paced and high-pressure environment like an emergency department, it may not be clear where things went wrong. An expert with experience in hospital environments can sort through official records and the patient’s testimony to untangle what happened. This is particularly useful in court. In a trial, it is very helpful for a medical expert witness to explain technical terms and hospital procedures in clear, understandable language. The jury will likely most likely not have special medical training, so this can clear up the picture. Any grey areas brought up in court will likely be used by the hospital’s lawyers against you.

An Expert Opinion

Medical malpractice is a complicated area of the law. Even small details can make a big difference in how your case turns out. A medical expert witness is essential here. Dr. Edward Mallory has more than two decades of emergency medical experience. His expert testimony has been a key factor in US malpractice cases. Dr. Mallory’s extensive experience with emergency medicine will be invaluable when your case goes to trial. Contact Dr. Mallory to determine if you need a medical expert witness today to find out more about his services 813-997-1241.