Medical malpractice

Medical Malpractice in Urgent Care Centers and Emergency Clinics

January 25, 2022 by James McHugh, Jr.
Medical Malpractice in Urgent Care Centers and Emergency Clinics

The increase in freestanding emergency rooms has had a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of millions of Americans. Between 2008 and 2016, the number of freestanding emergency rooms grew from 222 to 566 across 32 states. With freestanding emergency rooms, medical care is closer in proximity to more patients than ever before. In fact, for many people, the nearest place to receive emergency care is not at a hospital, but at an emergency clinic. While these clinics undoubtedly help improve patient outcomes, they also pose their own unique risks not associated with ordinary emergency rooms or hospitals.

While freestanding emergency rooms may be convenient, this very convenience can put patients at serious risk. Emergency rooms inside of a hospital provide patients access to all of the physicians and specialists on staff, while emergency clinics usually only have one or two doctors on hand to treat patients. Patients in immediate need of a specialty surgeon or specific diagnostic test may have to be transferred to a nearby hospital, and this can cost them valuable time.

The biggest difference between emergency clinics and emergency rooms within a hospital is the quality of the physicians. Freestanding clinics often hire medical residents still working toward a certification in emergency medicine. Medical residents are required to be supervised by a board-certified physician at all times, but this doesn’t always happen.

Inexperienced medical residents who are not properly supervised are much more likely to make a diagnostic mistake. Many are only a few years out of medical school and simply do not have the knowledge and experience required to provide medical treatment at the appropriate standard of care.

Emergency Clinics, Walk-In Clinics, Urgent Care vs Emergency Rooms and Hospitals

Urgent care, walk-in clinics, and freestanding emergency rooms can fill the gap when someone becomes sick or gets hurt but their regular doctor is not available and the issue can’t wait for the next appointment. With so many nontraditional treatment facilities available, patients often confuse freestanding emergency rooms with the cheaper option of urgent care clinics. A freestanding emergency room or clinic is structurally separate from a hospital but can treat the conditions a hospital-based emergency room can. They are also staffed 24/7 by licensed physicians and nurses.

A walk-in clinic provides more affordable options for basic medical care than an emergency room and is generally staffed with nurse practitioners and physician assistants. They were originally conceived as a way to provide care to underserved and/or uninsured patients for non-life-threatening medical conditions. Urgent care centers are similar to walk-in clinics but they can treat additional illnesses and injuries, having at least one physician on staff anytime they are open.

While cuts and broken bones may be easily taken care of at an emergency clinic, walk-in clinic, or urgent care facility, people experiencing more serious symptoms like a rapid heartbeat or abnormal breathing should be taken care of at a hospital. If you are unsure whether or not you need to go to a hospital or if you should go to a freestanding clinic, always err on the side of caution and seek treatment at a hospital. Freestanding emergency rooms can be a good choice for receiving treatment, but it’s important to understand that sometimes the best option is to go to a hospital.

You can generally safely visit a freestanding emergency clinic or an urgent care center for:

  • Minor fractures
  • Minor headaches
  • Bloodwork or other lab services
  • A fever
  • Foreign objects in the eyes or nose
  • Stitches
  • Rashes
  • Cold or flu symptoms
  • X-rays
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Sprains and strains
  • Small cuts, bruises, and scrapes
  • Sore throat
  • Ear pain
  • Painful urination

The Rise in Urgent Care Treatment and Hospital Alternatives

The number of urgent care facilities across the country continues to grow. There are over 10,000 urgent care facilities in the U.S. with hundreds more opening every year as the demand grows for alternatives to expensive emergency room trips. In 2021, urgent care grew to become a $38.5 billion industry, more than double its measure in 2017. Urgent care facilities have become an increasingly useful alternative to visiting the emergency room or a doctor, as they provide an intermediary service between the two. As well, with the rising cost of healthcare, many people do not have a primary care physician; urgent care centers are therefore increasingly used in lieu of a regular doctor’s visit for minor medical issues. Sometimes known as walk-in care, immediate care, or convenient care, urgent care centers provide treatment to patients with acute conditions and minor trauma. Those with less serious injuries often choose urgent care over a hospital emergency room because of the favorable prices and faster service.

As the popularity of urgent care clinics continues to rise, so do medical malpractice claims against such facilities. The lack of uniform standards and guidelines regarding urgent care can lead to urgent care malpractice, including errors in medical treatment. In addition, there is no ongoing relationship between the patient and the provider. Patients are examined, given basic treatment, and then told to visit a primary care physician or a specialist in order to continue their treatment. The majority of medical malpractice claims against urgent care centers have involved an incorrect diagnosis or a failure to diagnose a serious medical condition. In addition, if a healthcare professional provides services or treatments that only a doctor is authorized to provide, that’s not only illegal but also negligent.

Some of the most commonly missed diagnoses in an urgent care setting include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Heart failure
  • Renal failure
  • Cancer
  • Urinary tract infections

Urgent Care Malpractice and Freestanding Emergency Clinic Malpractice Lawyers

A misdiagnosis or a failure to diagnose by doctors and medical staff in “retail medicine” at a freestanding emergency clinic, an urgent care facility, a walk-in clinic, or another traditional hospital alternative can cause a patient further injury or even kill them. Many victims of medical malpractice turn to a medical malpractice attorney because they just want to understand what went wrong. Oftentimes, doctors and healthcare facilities try to cover up their mistakes, leaving patients in the dark. While not all alternative clinics are, freestanding emergency clinics are required to provide the same standard of care required in hospitals.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice at one of these care centers, contact the Philadelphia trial lawyers of Lopez McHugh to learn more about your legal rights. Our consultations are free and there is no upfront cost for working with us.

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