From Hospitals & Health Networks Magazine, part of their Save Lives Now series.
Hospital emergency departments are the theater of valiant American medicine. Every day, approximately 300,000 patients visit EDs across the country, with conditions ranging from a twisted ankle to severe trauma. The overwhelming majority of these patients are treated quickly, efficiently and successfully. Physicians, nurses and others who staff EDs routinely perform lifesaving care under apparently chaotic, unpredictable conditions, and for this they are often considered heroes.
Yet the same conditions that confer special status on emergency medicine also make it dangerous. “Anything can come in the door at any time,” says Charles Pattavina, M.D., an emergency physician in Worcester, Mass. Decisions have to be made and executed quickly, without time for reflection or even, in many instances, consultation with a patient’s medical record. Consequently, the ED is also home to a high number of medical errors, including many that lead to permanent injury or death—and many of which can be avoided.