Medical error in hospital A&E departments
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Medical error arises in all aspects of our healthcare system, but one area where it occurs more frequently is in Accident and Emergency.
Diagnostic errors are particularly common in hospital A&E departments where the consequences for the patient can be severe and occasionally life threatening. Diagnostic errors are in fact one of the commonest causes of complaints being made against A&E departments, with a higher than average percentage resulting in legal action being taken against the NHS.
Delays in making an accurate diagnosis are a particular concern. Delayed diagnosis can affect the patient’s recovery, increase operative risks and result in avoidable pain and suffering. Medical errors are also damaging to the NHS as they attract complaints, create bad publicity and, in serious cases, result in medical negligence compensation claims being made.
Our hospitals have therefore been working hard to reduce medical errors, especially those in an A&E setting, but the number of cases remains worryingly high.
One of the factors thought to create a higher risk of medical error within A&E departments is the fact that they are often staffed by very junior and inexperienced doctors. Furthermore, A&E is acknowledged to be a particularly “high risk” specialty within healthcare.
Studies looking specifically at diagnostic errors have identified failure to interpret radiographs correctly as the main cause, with bone fractures being most commonly missed. A key concern is that many of the fractures should have been obvious, even to a junior doctor, indicating that poor training in radiological interpretation may be responsible. In a significant number of cases the error was due to the wrong radiographs being requested.