Written By: Attorney John Rogers
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Medical malpractice claims can arise under virtually any of the hundreds of medical specialty fields that exist. This may include negligent errors in the emergency department while a surgeon is operating, during the administration of anesthesia, and labor and delivery, or many other areas. An often-overlooked area where malpractice and severe harm can and does occur is in the Urgent Care setting.
No matter what specialty might be at issue, a medical malpractice claim involves evaluating if a reasonable, similarly qualified practitioner would have done something different under the particular facts of a given claim, a valid action for medical malpractice may exist.
If you have been injured due to the negligence of the hospital or urgent care staff, contact the attorneys of Zinda Law Group today at (800) 863-5312 for a free consultation. If we are unable to win your case, you will not owe us anything.
WHAT MAKES TREATMENT AT URGENT CARE CENTERS UNIQUE?
Before delving into the particular challenges of an urgent care setting leading to malpractice, it is vital to understand the standard applicable. As a simple example, an emergency room physician cannot be judged by the standard that applies to a pediatric neurologist. After medical school, physicians take years to specialize in one particular area, such as neurosurgery. It would not be fair to expect a primary care physician to offer the same level of care as a cardiothoracic surgeon. So too for urgent care practitioners, it is crucial to realize the standard that should apply to the middle-ground between emergent and routine care.
The urgent care setting itself is unique and problematic. Many patients expect – and frankly, need – an urgent physician to act as a substitute for a family practice or primary care physician. Access to care at family care practices is difficult. Most of us have had the unfortunate experience of calling our general practitioner to request an appointment for a pressing medical need only to learn the first availability is months into the future. Many family practice groups have turned to utilizing mid-level practitioners (nurse practitioners) under the supervision of a physician to help fill this gap. Others have extremely limited availability to see patients when care is needed most.
This leaves an individual in need of evaluation with few choices, one of which is to present at an urgent care clinic. As patients face more and more restricted access to a continuous course of treatment, it creates hurdles for the urgent care practitioner to manage conditions that cannot be resolved in a single visit.
Unfortunately, treating patients in the Urgent Care setting tends to force more patients through a care setting, which inhibits the development of ongoing relationships with nurses and doctors. When physicians and other care providers have a more superficial relationship with their patients, it is more difficult to completely understand their patients’ histories, more difficult to maintain continuous communication, and more difficult to adjust a patient’s ongoing differential diagnosis in response to serial examinations.
COMMON CAUSES OF URGENT CARE MALPRACTICE
Failure to Communicate
One pattern our firm has seen in urgent care malpractice is a failure to communicate. Patients are rightfully baffled when an urgent care office fails to report positive test results and that those results simply get put into a file, never to be examined again. In these cases, victims forcefully argue it is the responsibility of the ordering physician to communicate any critical test results to their patients regardless of the care setting. Otherwise, ordering the test in the first place is a meaningless exercise. This failure to communicate likely arises simply as a consequence of the Urgent Care facility’s failure to follow proper policies and procedures. It also reflects the pressures faced by these facilities marketed to treat “urgent” needs as opposed to managing chronic or insidious conditions.
Failure to Elevate the Level of Care
Urgent care facilities also face challenges involving specialists or elevating the level of care when needed. For example, if a patient presented to an urgent care facility with classic signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism, which include shortness of breath, sweating, elevated respiration, and chest pain, it may be challenging for the facility to reach a definitive diagnosis.
The Urgent Care likely does not have access to the same laboratory resources as a hospital. It is not able to call a cardiologist or pulmonologist in for a relatively quick consultation. Instead, the Urgent Care physician is faced with the option to rule out the most serious possible conditions, which in this presentation would include a heart attack, and either discharge the patient home or advise the patient to present to an emergency room. If an Urgent Care physician under pressure to move from patient to patient relatively quickly does not take a detailed history from a patient, he or she may be less likely to consider a pulmonary embolism as a possible diagnosis when performing their workup.
Identifying risk factors and whether a patient is more or less likely to have developed a particular condition can be an essential part of obtaining a reasonable history and physical. In this scenario, there may be other reasonable and relatively harmless explanations for some or all of the patient’s symptoms, including acid reflux or typical angina. However, whenever a patient presents with a clinical picture that fits a potentially life-threatening condition, a reasonably prudent practitioner would not discharge a patient home without being able to affirmatively rule it out. To do otherwise would be to needlessly gamble with the patient’s ultimate wellbeing and safety.
GET HELP FROM ZINDA LAW GROUP
As Urgent Care facilities play a larger part in the healthcare system, the number of facilities increases, as do their inevitable mistakes in treating patients with complicated histories and serious health conditions, leading to more and more tragic outcomes. While Urgent Care practitioners cannot be held to the level of care of a specialist, they are required to exercise reasonable care in line with reasonable prudence. If you or a loved one have questions about care received at an Urgent Care facility, or believe that you may be a victim of medical malpractice, please do not hesitate to seek a consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Zinda Law Group.
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