Heart attacks remain a leading cause of death in the U.S. Despite being common, a new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) shows that emergency rooms are less prepared to deal with hearts attacks when they occur on weekends, evenings and holidays. Should a patient’s life depend on whether they are lucky enough to have their heart attack during normal business hours?
Medical malpractice lawyers have long known that many avoidable medical errors occur on evenings, weekends and holidays when staffing is low, when caregivers are fatigued or distracted, and when inexperienced resident physicians are running the show. The BMJ study, titled Off-Hour Presentation and Outcomes in Patients with Acute Myocardial Infarction: Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis, adds statistical verification to this experience. (“Acute myocardial infarction” or “MI” is a medical term for a heart attack.)
The researchers reached the following conclusion: “This systematic review suggests that patients with acute myocardial infarction presenting during off-hours have higher mortality, and patients with STEMI have longer door to balloon times.” (STEMI is an acronym meaning “ST segment elevation myocardial infarction,” which is a common type of heart attack caused by blockage of coronary arteries.) This research supports early studies confirming that the quality of care decreases on evenings, weekends and holidays. Worse yet, this recent study found that “
Unfortunately, under Ohio law, it is not sufficient to prove that an ER was understaffed or staffed with inexperienced personnel during off-hours. To prove medical negligence, a patient would have to show that one or more caregivers was negligent and that earlier and proper treatment would have likely saved the patient’s life. This can be proven by medical experts in the field who are willing to review medical records and establish that the care was unsafe and likely caused the patient’s death.
With heart attacks, negligent treatment may occur in a number of ways, such as: (1) failure to include MI in the differential diagnosis; (2) failure to undertake a thorough workup of possible MI; (3) misinterpretation or miscommunication of test results; (4) failure to engage proper specialty consultations; (5) failure of ER personnel to admit the symptomatic patient; and (6) delayed arrival by an interventional cardiologist or other delays in treatment.