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Liability of Emergency Physicians for Studies Ordered in the Emergency Department: Court Cases and Legal Defenses

Published:November 19, 2009DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jemermed.2009.08.047

      Abstract

      Background: Laboratory tests are frequently ordered in the Emergency Department (ED), with results returning at a later time. Emergency physicians (EPs) are frequently held liable when the test results are not followed-up. Methods: Recent legal malpractice cases are presented to provide examples of the medical-legal risks encountered when poor patient outcomes occur because the results of laboratory tests and other studies done in the ED are not followed-up and communicated to the patient. Discussion: Emergency physicians are obligated to follow-up with patients when the results of laboratory and radiographic studies ordered in the ED are returned at a later time, and EPs are liable for any poor outcome if there is no follow-up. Appropriate follow-up mechanisms must be in place to improve patient outcomes and reduce the risk for the physician. Knowledge of the legal concepts of contributory negligence and comparative fault allows EPs to place themselves in an optimal position for a legal defense if a challenge is raised. Conclusion: It is imperative that abnormal results of tests done for ED evaluation and orders must be properly noted and followed-up. Optimal communication and relay of information to both the patient and the primary physician will reduce physician liability and enhance patient outcomes.

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