Like most parents, you are probably attentive to your children’s health. You notice signs that your children are not feeling well, and you take seriously any complaints of pain or injury. When your children have health issues that are beyond your home remedies, you take them to the emergency room, urgent care or pediatrician. However, you should be aware that the rate of medical mistakes in pediatric emergency units can be very high.
Recent studies show that the high volume, high-stress atmosphere of emergency rooms sets the stage for frequent mistakes and misdiagnoses. Physician burnout, one of the leading causes of medical errors, is especially common in these facilities, and the high demand on doctors often prevents them from having adequate time to give proper care and attention to patients. However, when it is your child, you expect and deserve quality care.
Watch for these issues
Emergency departments are typically busy and understaffed. The same may be said for your pediatrician’s office, which may see dozens or hundreds of children daily whose parents are worried about them. In an ER, however, frequent interruptions are the norm. A doctor who is examining your child and trying to make an accurate diagnosis may receive as many as 10 interruptions an hour from pagers, phone calls and others on staff. This can make it difficult for doctors to keep their train of thought about your child’s symptoms.
Some other mistakes doctors commonly make in emergency rooms and busy pediatrician offices include these:
- Fixating on a diagnosis too early and failing to consider other possibilities
- Ignoring important vital signs, like fever or worsening pain
- Failing to obtain a complete medical history of the patient, including the child’s social circumstances
- Failing to communicate effectively with the patient or the patient’s parent
- Neglecting to consider or discuss the findings of other medical professionals, such as a triage nurse who notices something concerning
- Rushing through the exam because other patients are waiting
Medical errors, including diagnostic mistakes, can result in a rapid decline in health, the progression of an injury or illness, and even the loss of life. You can insist that your child’s doctor be in the moment when he or she examines your child, and you may wish to seek a second opinion if you feel the physician did not devote the proper attention. However, if your child suffers injury due to a medical mistake, exploring your legal options may be an appropriate course of action.