Dallas area news outlets reported last week that Parkland Hospital in Dallas was officially “full” and was diverting incoming ambulances to other area hospitals. As the primary trauma center in the Dallas Metroplex and the “go-to” source of health care for the county’s indigent and uninsured, the pressure is not only on at Parkland Hospital, but also the other Dallas-area emergency rooms and hospitals that find themselves trying to meet not only their patient load, but also absorb Parkland’s overflow. Add to that the inherent fast-paced nature of emergency rooms, and one can easily see a ready recipe for medical errors.
Misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and failure to diagnose account for a sizable percentage of emergency room failures. For example, just a few years ago, Dallas residents watched the television news in horror as 58-year-old Mike Herrera endured a 17-hour wait in Parkland’s emergency room, only to die shortly after he was taken back to be examined. Despite the fact that Herrera’s symptoms and history indicated the need for “level 1” care, the triage nurse noted his status as “level 3,” considerably lower in priority.
In Herrera’s case, the medical errors that contributed to his death began, quite literally, at the front door when his history of heart disease and severe hernias were overlooked during initial assessment, and upon further investigation, events that took place after the botched triage served as additional contributors to Herrera’s wrongful death. The hospital, however, countered that given Herrera’s condition, he probably would have died anyway, which leads to another important dynamic that patients and families face in cases of medical malpractice and wrongful death: Confounded by the explanations offered by the medical community when a crisis occurs, the average layperson lacks the expertise to discern whether proper medical protocols were followed, whether proper diagnostic tools were employed, and whether appropriate care and intervention were provided. Patients and families are often unsure whether to count their losses and leave the situation alone or to take action.
Though it may seem that emergency rooms can’t be blamed for the crisis of increasingly larger patient loads, that does not negate the standard of care that federal law demands. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) was passed specifically to ensure that any patient seeking care at a U.S. emergency room would receive, at minimum, “appropriate medical screening examination and stabilizing treatment.” A violation of this law is an extremely serious offense.
A personal injury lawyer with expertise in medical malpractice has the appropriate tools to investigate instances of medical care that appear to be questionable to a patient or a patient’s family. Personal injury lawyers have the resources to determine what occurred and whether or not the hospital or doctor was at fault.