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Headed to the emergency room? Watch out for mistakes

Emergency room errors are not as uncommon as you may think. Some include things like misdiagnosing patients, making medication errors, ordering the wrong tests or reading tests incorrectly. Delaying to treat a condition or injecting a patient incorrectly can all lead to injuries and problems with the patient's care. In some cases, those mistakes can lead to severe disabilities or death.

The reason for many emergency room errors seems to be medical providers using "faulty cognitive processes," according to one study. Based on the study by De Gruyter's Journal Diagnosis, around 45% of emergency room errors are a result of trouble correctly processing information.

Did you know that medical errors lead to around 250,000 deaths each year in the United States? Many of these errors are a result of doctors seeing the right information but failing to act in the most appropriate manner.

The study looked at patients who had initially gone to an ER and been released. Then, it studied their return visits (within 72 hours of the first). Seeing that a patient has returned is the first indication that something about their care could have been improved during the first visit.

After identifying the subjects of the study, physicians looked at the cases to see if any errors had been made. If so, they were to record the kind of errors that were made.

It was found that information processing led to around 45% of the return visits. Inadequate knowledge made up around 6% of mistakes, while inadequate information gathering took place in 18% of the cases. An incorrect diagnosis took place in around 13% of cases as a result of misjudging the importance of certain findings.

What causes cognitive errors in the ER?

The study didn't look at the causes or factors leading to faulty cognitive processing. However, it was suggested that it could be that the medical providers are simply overworked and exhausted. Previous research has shown that physician burnout has a negative impact on overall care quality and physicians' decision-making skills.

The study also didn't look at how many of these errors and return visits led to malpractice cases, but it's safe to say that patients who are badly hurt as a result of mistakes may have claims against their providers. That's why there should always be a multi-tiered approach to helping reduce physician burnout and to increase overall education and communication in the emergency room.

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