When someone enters an emergency room, she expects the medical staff to work as a coordinated team to provide proper medical treatment. Unfortunately, a recent study by the Center for Studying Health System Change conducted for the National Institute of Health Care Reform, a nonpartisan health policy research group, showed that is often not the case.
Assessing communication gaps between primary care and emergency physicians, the Center for Studying Health System Change’s February 2011 study revealed that even the smallest barriers in communication can result in duplicative and inappropriate treatments for patients that did not need emergency care.
This assessment of inefficient medical treatment is concerning since an additional 32 million Americans will be insured by 2019 when the health care reform law goes into effect. A predicted increase in emergency room use combined with poor communication among physicians could result in increased costs for unnecessary and inappropriate treatments. Under the new health care law, we will all pay for that inefficiency.
Potential Negative Consequences
When a patient enters an emergency room, a treating emergency physician knows only what the patient tells them and what the EMTs were able to determine through standard assessments. Communicating with the patient’s primary care physician and obtaining the patient’s medical records are difficult. Herein lies the problem.
Unwillingness by emergency and primary care physicians to effectively communicate regarding a patient’s medical history can lead to one of two outcomes:
- Misdiagnosis: without a full knowledge of the patient’s medical history, the emergency physician jumps to conclusions about the current symptoms and improperly addresses the medical problem; or
- Failure to diagnose: the patient has a serious condition unknown to the emergency physician, which goes untreated and leads to serious injury.
In either case, the lack of communication leads to an improper assessment and treatment of the true medical problem. Every physician owes a duty of care to each patient they assess and treat. Failure to appropriately communicate with another physician to properly treat a patient is a breach of that duty of care.
If you or a loved one has been physically or financially injured because of a doctor’s failure to properly diagnose and treat a medical condition, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss your situation and your options.