Is My Urgent Care Facility Safe?
By Sean Lally, Staff Writer
Sometimes you might feel ill at the most inopportune time: on the weekend, late at night or any time your primary physician isn’t available. The emergency room can feel like overkill. After all, you may just have a stomach ache and not pancreatitis. But if you’re not sure how severe the issue is, you might still want to see a healthcare provider who can give you solace or much needed information about your condition. In these cases, you may decide to go to an urgent care facility, which is designed to treat persistent and acute illnesses and injuries. This has become more and more common over the years. Since these facilities attempt to be highly efficient, moving patients in and out, it’s unsurprising that there are a fair number of medical errors that occur. These medical errors can result in injury. But how common are these injuries?
Well to begin with, misdiagnosis is a common phenomenon (even outside urgent care facilities, resulting in the deaths of nearly 500,000 patients every year. In fact, physicians make this sort of mistake 15 percent of the time. Putting it bluntly, author and professor Joe Graedon says, “That is the equivalent of three jumbo jets crashing every day of the year and killing everyone aboard.”
According to Graedon, this is because “Doctors are trained in medical school that if it sounds like hooves, then it must be a horse. But what if it’s a zebra?”
David E. Newman-Toker, professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University, explained in an interview why doctors tend to miss strokes. He said that symptoms often point to a variety of different causes. So a patient might say they are experiencing headaches, dizziness, confusion and vertigo, but 95 percent of the people who describe such symptoms haven’t had a stroke. Even more worrying is the fact that tests like MRIs and CT Scans result in false negatives more often than we’d like to think, especially when carried out in the first 48 hours following the stroke. According to Dr. Newman-Toker, “Many of the bedside techniques to differentiate dangerous from benign causes […] rely on tests unfamiliar to most emergency physicians and many neurologists.”
It is not hard to see why urgent care facilities might be associated with a heightened risk of misdiagnosis. According to a study carried out by the Sullivan Group, out of 90,000 high-risk patients involved in the study, 9,000 had a “very abnormal vital sign.” Sixteen percent of those were discharged without any further tests or evaluation of the abnormality.
Take George Trovato for instance. He went in for joint pain only to be sent home by a healthcare provider who advised him to increase his exercise. Shortly thereafter, Trovato died of a heart attack. Part of the problem might be the delegation of labor to health care providers with less training than their physician counterparts – such as nurses and assistants. Trovato was treated by a physician’s assistant, a fact that caused his wife, Jennifer, to file a medical malpractice suit.
The danger of urgent care facilities has led some to wonder whether these services are regulated properly. For one, urgent care facilities may not be inspected regularly, meaning there isn’t enough data available for patients to make reasonable choices about their care. Suzanne Mattei, who runs New Yorkers for Patient and Family Empowerment, told NBC New York, "[…] there's not a system in place to process complaints specifically about urgent care facilities. And that means that you don't have people looking at complaint numbers and trying to figure out what's going wrong."
If you believe that you have been injured as a result of a medical mistake, you might want to contact an attorney with experience in medical malpractice. He or she can help you obtain the compensation you deserve.