A new trend in emergency rooms may reduce misdiagnosis of elderly patients. A few new hospitals are opening ERs specially designed for seniors, without all the confusion and clamor and with a little more comfort. But the real question is whether they'll truly improve care.
Misdiagnosis is when the physician doesn't realize that the patient has a particular medical problem and sends them home with the wrong diagnosis and the wrong treatment plan. Sometimes, the patient may die or suffer some other catastrophic injury like the loss of fingers or other amputation because they did not get the necessary medical treatment in a timely fashion.
Some emergency rooms currently don't take enough time to properly diagnose the multiple ailments with which older people tend have. Those patients may not even have the same symptoms as younger people. They're less likely to report chest pain with a heart attack, for instance, complaining instead of vague symptoms such as dizziness or nausea. Urinary tract infections sometimes cause enough confusion to be mistaken for dementia.
A study published in January called delirium and dementia an "invisible hazard" for many older patients because ERs don't routinely check for not-too-obvious cognitive problems - yet such patients can't accurately describe their symptoms or understand what they're supposed to do at home. The safe method of diagnosis for an emergency room physician doesn't change just because his or her waiting room is busy or crowded. The standard method for diagnosis is called differential diagnosis.
Seniors already make 17 million ER visits a year, and 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older by 2030. As a medical malpractice lawyer I hope this new change shows an improved trend on taking the time to properly diagnosis a patient even if it takes a little longer.