Our Blogs

Ever-Increasing Emergency Department Wait Times Are Putting Patients at Risk

Written by Elizabeth Gilbert

Emergency room sign

Emergency medicine is an essential service, offering people in medical distress a 24/7 setting for the evaluation of their unscheduled, acute conditions. Unfortunately, patients are experiencing ever-increasing wait times while trying to access care at emergency departments, putting them at an increased risk of medical errors, mortality, and compromises to their privacy.

Although emergency department crowding is often dismissed as simply an inconvenience for patients, it is a well-documented source of avoidable patient morbidity and mortality that remains underappreciated. When patients are admitted to the emergency department, they are sometimes held in areas like hallways while awaiting an inpatient bed through a process known as boarding.  According to the Joint Commission, boarding is a patient safety risk that should not exceed four hours. Nevertheless, a study from the Yale School of Medicine revealed that boarding times have been increasing, from a median of 1.58 hours in April 2020 to 3.42 hours in December 2021.

Distressingly, this problem is growing nation-wide. For example, the unprecedented demand at Seattle Children’s Hospital Emergency Department is creating long wait times and forcing providers to see patients with non-life threatening illnesses in the waiting room. The hospital’s emergency medicine medical director, Dr. Tony Woodward, explained that although providers have had to evaluate patients from the waiting room during intermittent surges in the past, providers are now routinely doing this for patients who do not require nursing care or need something simple like an X-ray or Tylenol.

Why Do Errors in the Emergency Department Occur?

Emergency department errors occur far too often.  Patients should therefore understand when and how these errors can occur. The most common emergency department errors are:

  • Misdiagnosis
  • Health Care Workers Downplaying Reports of Alarming Symptoms
  • Medication Errors

A 2018 study of errors in the emergency department that resulted in a patient returning within 72 hours of their first visit revealed the following:

  • 45% of errors were due to the provider’s faulty information processing such as mistaking one symptom for another
  • 31% of errors were due to the provider’s faulty verification such as not getting a consult when appropriate
  • 18% of errors were due to the provider’s faulty information gathering such as not getting a complete history of the patient
  • 6% of errors were due to the provider’s faulty knowledge such as lacking the diagnostic skill for the relevant condition

What Can Patients Do to Minimize the Likelihood of Emergency Departments Errors?

CBS News recommends patients take the following steps to ensure effective treatment in the emergency department:

  • Select a hospital that has a great track record for patient care and safety.
  • To guard against deadly clotting, ask for a blood clot screening.
  • Ask about your treating physician’s experience.
  • Speak up about cleanliness.
  • If possible, avoid going to the emergency department on Friday nights and weekends.
  • Make sure your physicians, nurses, and hospital staff understand your needs and pay attention to them.

What Can You Do if You or Your Loved One Experience an Injury from an Emergency Department Error?

If you or a loved one have experienced an injury from an emergency department error, you should reach out to an attorney right away. Contact the experienced attorneys at Berkowitz and Hanna, LLC if you have questions about your legal rights following an injury from an emergency department error in Connecticut. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation, call or contact us online today.