Physicians believe hospital overcrowding increases the risk of misdiagnosis, medical error, and delayed treatment in emergency rooms, according to a report in the Emergency Medicine Journal. As every medical malpractice lawyer knows, overcrowding is an urgent issue in Ontario, where hospitals are struggling to cope with an aging population and funding limitations.

The survey results showed that many doctors take abbreviated medical histories and alter the way they perform physical examinations when treating patients in hallways or when individuals other than the patient are present. These adjustments lead to failure to diagnose social and mental health issues including elder and child abuse, suicidality, domestic abuse, and substance abuse.

“What we found is that these non-private encounters not only affect the accurate diagnosis of medical conditions, but also of social and behavioural conditions such as domestic violence, human trafficking, suicidality, and substance abuse,” lead study author Dr. Hanni Stoklosa told Thomson Reuters via email. “This is quite concerning on many levels because emergency departments are on the front lines of caring for patients most vulnerable to these conditions.”

The Emergency Medicine Journal report was based on a survey of more than 400 emergency room physicians at a conference in Boston in 2015. While the results do not reflect statistical data or offer solutions, they show a massive systemic issue with which every medical malpractice lawyer in Ontario has become familiar. They also add to a body of evidence showing that the environment in which a patient is treated impacts the quality of the treatment they receive.

“Past work has found that patients treated in overcrowded emergency departments often have delays in medical care and increased risk of medical errors,” Dr. Bernard Chang, a professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center told Thomson Reuters. Chang wasn’t involved in the study.

“While an ideal situation would be for patients to have their own private space to talk with their providers, in the emergency departments, patients are often seen in crowded and at times high stress situations, and the ability to get a private room may just not be practically feasible.”

As Ontario’s hospitals become more crowded, personal injury lawyers are bracing for an increase in cases involving misdiagnoses and delayed diagnoses. If you or a member of your family have been affected by a medical error, contact Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer. Our team is happy to provide guidance on your path to recovery.


Image credit: Balad emergency room/Master Sgt. Scott Reed

Greg Neinstein