False patient contact information worsens emergency care

One of the biggest emergency room problems is contacting patients after they leave.

Patients sometimes leave false contact information — which makes it difficult for the emergency room staff should problems arise after the visit.

The issue was illustrated in a piece from msnbc.com. Many times, results like blood cultures or x-ray findings take time to return. And if there’s something that needs to be acted upon, contacting the patient is imperative.

In a study from the Journal of Emergency Medicine, out of of 1,136 patients, “only only 42 percent could be successfully contacted using the numbers provided [and] nearly 28 percent of the patients gave wrong or disconnected numbers.”

Why do patients give false information? The reasons range from the fear of large hospital bills to checks on immigration status.

Whatever the case, it’s important for patients to realize that false information detracts from their care, and in some cases, can put their lives in danger.

That’s why some emergency departments resort to calling the police to find patients in need of critical follow-up. Sound over the top? Well, some lawyers argue that not doing so can be grounds for a lawsuit:

In some cases, however, critics argue that delayed diagnoses in the ER are actually medical errors and that some doctors don’t try hard enough to reach seriously ill patients. In Connecticut, lawyers say a 74-year-old woman died after emergency doctors failed to properly diagnose an abdominal perforation and sent her home. When they realized the problem the next day, they called the woman’s house, but didn’t get an answer. She died shortly after.

“One of my experts said they should have sent the police,” said Kathleen L. Brandt, a Stamford, Conn., lawyer representing the woman’s family.

Of course, this can all be avoided if patients give doctors proper contact information in the first place.