Emergency Department Safety

6emergency_department-optEmergency Departments are obligated, under federal law, to provide emergency medical care to everyone who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay. No one may be turned away. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) states that quality emergency care is a fundamental right and that unobstructed access to emergency services should be available to all patients. However, ACEP gives New York’s emergency departments a “C” as its overall grade for its emergency care. ACEP reports that as of 2014, New York’s emergency departments (ED) are overcrowded, have the 4th longest patient waiting times in the country, and access to primary and mental health care is delayed.

Hospitals present their emergency departments as places that are staffed by frontline specialists trained to perform complex and expedited diagnostic workups. Their job is to manage and care for patients who have been injured in accidents; children and adults who are critically ill; and patients with chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, renal failure, and HIV-AIDS. They also see and diagnose patients with potentially dangerous symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest or abdominal pain, or severe headache.

And yet . . . overcrowding and understaffing in an ED often blocks the quality administration of medical care. Sometimes it simply blocks medical care.

At the Dennehy Law Firm, we see medical negligence by ED physicians and staff whose treatment falls below the accepted standard of medical care in the community. Behind that medical negligence, we often see systemic negligence by the hospital itself.

What is systemic negligence? It includes:

  • failure to develop and implement plans to resolve ED overcrowding;
  • use of inadequate information technologies;
  • failure to integrate ED information systems with the hospital information systems, including laboratory, radiology and pharmacy departments;
  • failure to coordinate shift handoffs between staff;
  • failure to make information readily available to medical personnel.

When we take an ED case, we investigate. We examine the patient’s records, the hospital’s protocols and guidelines, and the guidelines issued by hospital accrediting associations. Our goal is to shine a light on this significant area of medical practice, improve ED operations, and, most importantly, promote patient safety. This is important for everyone.