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November 14, 2018

If you or a loved one was harmed in an emergency room due to a medical error, there’s a nearly 50 percent chance the mistake stemmed from a healthcare professional’s problem with information processing.

A study published in De Gruyter’s Journal Diagnosis examined the role “cognitive errors” play in emergency room errors. The study concluded 45 percent of the cases involved “faulty information processing.”

According to a Healthcare Finance article about the study, about 250,000 people die each year due to medical errors. The study revealed that doctors generally have the right information about their patients, but they make cognitive (mental processing) errors. In other words, they don’t process the information in a way that results in the best outcome for the patient.

As experienced emergency room error attorneys in Chicago, we have handled cases that involve cognitive errors by physicians. These cases can be especially complicated, because doctors often will not admit any wrongdoing.

An emergency department is unlike a family physician’s office. Doctors and nurses handling emergencies frequently are interrupted as they treat patients in a high-pressure environment. ER doctors often work with medical professionals who are in training and may have incomplete or unreliable patient information.

Despite these conditions, the study concludes that errors made by doctors in emergency departments are similar to those made by doctors working with admitted patients. Doctors make more information processing errors than errors based on inadequate knowledge or inadequate information.


The study of emergency room errors involved patients who came back to the emergency department a second time within three days. They were admitted to the hospital, which indicated the ER care they received the first time did not help them.

A trained team of doctors examined the cases of people returning to emergency rooms a second time and determined 45 percent of the cases involving error was linked to an information processing problem. The second most frequent problem was the doctors’ difficulty in verifying the gathered information (31 percent).  Less frequent errors involved inadequate knowledge (6 percent) and inadequate information gathering (18 percent).

The study does not make clear why doctors frequently make cognitive mistakes in emergency rooms. We have written about the problem of physician burnout, which can affect the doctor’s ability to make the best decisions.

Many people don’t realize how common medical errors have become in the United States. According to an article in the Washington Post, medical errors are one of the top causes of death for Americans.

Doctors and hospitals typically will fight back against any accusations of malpractice. Their insurance companies and lawyers may put pressure on patients and families to settle for less than the case is worth – or even drop a case that has merit.

That’s why it’s critical to work with a knowledgeable attorney if you’ve been harmed. We can hold the responsible parties accountable. If you or a loved one was injured or a loved one died due to a medical error in an emergency room, contact Deratany & Kosner to determine the best course of action.

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