When many of us consider ‘medical malpractice‘ we commonly associate cases involving: surgical errors, birth injuries or a series of medical mistakes made by a doctor or medical professional.
Rarely do we considered the circumstance where medical care was simply not provided at all or when treatment was delayed so significantly that the patient suffered harm related to the delay.
Particularly when patients are taken to an emergency room, it is the responsibility of the hospital to do triage on each patient and assess their medical needs to determine if the patient has a true “emergency” that requires immediate medical attention or perhaps has a situation that is not quite as pressing.
We recently discussed a situation involving delayed emergency room care in California where a two-year-old girl was forced to wait more than five hours when her family brought her to the emergency room for treatment related to an infection. By the time doctors finally got around to providing the girl with the care that she needed, the Streptoccus A infection has progressed throughout the girls body. While the girl was able to survive the ordeal, the delayed medical care is responsible for the amputation of her hands and feet.
In response to this medical error, the girl’s family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital and physicians group who staffed the nursing home where she was originally brought for care. Recognizing the significance of the delayed medical care– and the possibility of saving the girl’s limbs with a more timely intervention, the hospital and physicians group has agreed to settle this matter for an estimated $10 million.
Is delayed medical care, medical malpractice?
As a medical malpractice lawyer, who handles cases involving serious injury or death from delayed medical care in a hospital, nursing home and immediate care setting, I see two primary reasons for these type errors: insufficient patient assessments and inadequate staffing levels– where medical facilities may simply not have proper staff to care for the patient needs.
From a triage standpoint, nurses and doctors should be tuned in to the subjective complaints and testing results when determining the patient’s immediate need for medical care. Staff needs to appreciate that when a patient presents themselves with certain conditions, they need to be addressed immediately. Similarly, while not every medical facility can be expected to be able to provide quality patient care in every situation, a proper triage should be able to determine the patients needs and a transfer to a more specialized medical facility when necessary.