Slate's Law Blog Pediatric Emergency Mistakes and Medical Malpractice

Serious medical errors affect patients much too frequently, and relatively recent studies have continued to cite medical mistakes as a leading cause of death for adults in the U.S. Yet medical errors do not just impact adults. Children and teenagers are also patients who seek healthcare, and medical negligence can result in serious and fatal injuries to younger patients. According to a recent report in Contemporary Pediatrics, certain types of errors tend to occur more often than others in pediatric emergency medicine, and those errors can be life-threatening ones. The type of medical error can depend upon the type of practitioner (i.e., nurse practitioners tend to make more diagnostic errors, while other types of healthcare providers make different kinds of mistakes more frequently). Yet it is important to remember that children are not immune from the effects of medical errors in healthcare settings, particularly in emergency departments.

We want to discuss pediatric medical mistakes and what patients might be able to do to prevent them.

Medical Mistakes May be More Likely in Emergency Departments

One of the first things to know about pediatric medical errors in emergency departments is that, in general, emergency rooms are “high-risk area[s] where medical errors are likely.” As the report explains, emergency departments are “often extremely busy with multiple ill or complicated patients,” and “emergency clinicians often must make rapid decisions in a chaotic environment, so the chance for error is high.” At the same time, some pediatricians describe their offices in similar ways, suggesting that the risk of a pediatric medical error in an emergency department might be similarly likely in a pediatrician’s office.

Many of these errors result from poor or ineffective communication with an emergency department physician or nurse, and many errors can be caught quickly if patients (or their parents, in the case of pediatric medicine) know the following information:

  • What diagnosis they received;
  • What, specifically, was done for them in the emergency room;
  • What the patient must do to heal or to seek additional treatment after visiting the emergency department; and
  • What symptoms should prompt another visit to a healthcare provider or to the emergency department.

If parents are able to keep track of these considerations, and to seek follow-up care or a second opinion when it is necessary, pediatric medical errors may be preventable or reversible in some cases.


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