Houston parents who bring their toddler to the emergency room place a tremendous trust in the physicians and other professionals who assess and treat their child. When they are required to wait before being seen, most understand that emergency rooms do not operate on a first come, first served basis. Under the triage system, those who need more urgent treatment are seen first, and those whose ailments can wait are asked to wait.
The system is a good one. But it requires an accurate assessment of the patient's complaint and symptoms as soon as the patient walks into the ER. If the urgency of the patient's illness or injuries is not recognized in that initial assessment, a delayed diagnosis and delayed treatment can result in spread of disease and a worsened condition. A recent case in California illustrates the tragic results that can occur when a patient is not properly assessed upon entering the ER.
The family of a young girl claims that a lengthy wait at an emergency room in Sacramento caused the girl to lose both her legs and parts of both hands. The hospital has now paid out $10 million to the family in a settlement. The settlement money is intended to cover the cost of past and future medical treatment for the girl, who is now four. According to one news source, the payment may be the largest of its type in the history of California.
The girl's parents took her to the ER in November of 2010. The girl's skin was turning purple due to a severe streptococcus infection. The family was forced to wait for four hours before the girl was seen - time that allowed the infection to spread, according to the family. Another hospital later had to amputate the infected limbs.
The only good news to come out of this story is that the hospital has now implemented new procedures as a direct result of the tragedy. Perhaps the most important change is that the hospital now has a nurse in the lobby at all times, to assess patients immediately upon entry.
Source: Fox40, "Hospital Makes Changes After Toddler's Amputations; Girl Continues Recovery Two Years Later," Chris Biele, Nov. 5,2012