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Long Waits in the ER Can Have Tragic Consequences

CNN.com recently posted an online article about a growing concern of nearly anyone who has visited a hospital emergency room: extended wait times that can lead to suffering and possible fatalities.

The reporter detailed the heart-wrenching story of a couple who brought their 2-year-old daughter to a California emergency room and were forced to wait nearly 5 hours before being seen, despite their constant complaints and the quick decline of their daughter’s health. By the time they were seen it was too late: what had been initially diagnosed by the triage nurse in the ER as a virus and a rash turned out to be the 2-year-old’s liver failing due to a strep A infection. After being transferred to 2 other hospitals, the child was able to be saved, but lack of oxygen to her limbs required surgeons to amputate her left hand, some fingers on her right hand, and both legs below the knees.

The article notes that according to a report from the Government Accountability Office in 2009, ER wait times continue to increase. The report says that the average wait time to see a physician is more than double the recommended wait time in some cases. Research done by Press Ganey Associates, a group that works with health care organizations to improve clinical outcomes, found that in 2009, patients waited on average for six hours in emergency rooms. Nearly 400,000 patients waited 24 hours or more.

The article offered some tips before you arrive at an emergency room:

Find out if your hospital posts wait times. Some hospitals have begun to post their emergency room wait times on the hospital website. Before you head out, see if you can find the wait times for your local hospital on the internet.

If possible, avoid high-traffic days: Dr. Assaad Sayah, chief of emergency medicine for the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts, is quoted in the article as saying, “In most emergency rooms, the busiest day is Monday. Patients who get sick on the weekend wait until Monday to go to the hospital because they don’t want to spend their weekend in the ER.” Of course, some conditions and some emergencies cannot wait.

Call your doctor on the way to the ER: Dr. Sandra Schneider, president of American College of Emergency Physicians, suggests, “It’s a good idea to let your doctor call ahead and tell the ER physicians what they may be thinking.” Your doctore may be able to explain your symptoms more clearly and they may be able to bring to you to the attention of the ER doctors more quickly.

Once you are at the ER, the following tips are recommended.

Don’t leave once you’ve started waiting.

Tell someone if you notice changes in your condition.

If you have been waiting for a while and you feel the situation is getting worse, ask for the charge nurse. It’s best to inform then that a patient has an “emergency medical condition that should be evaluated right away.”

If you or someone you know has been neglected in an emergency room and that neglect further complicated their medical condition, you may have a case. Contact the attorney team at Michael J. O’Connor & Associates for a free review of your case.