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Patient In Alaska Dies From Incorrect Diagnosis in ER

Jaclyn Hughes

Everyone is taught from a very young age that if you’re in a terrible amount of pain, to always head to the nearest hospital to seek some form of professional relief. What seems to have transpired over the past two decades, is that more and more people are visiting local emergency rooms for reasons that are simply not emergencies, or illnesses that would require a hospital trip. Of course, this becomes very cloudy when the patient truly does not know if they are experiencing something dangerous such as a heart attack or not, and because of these conditions, many hospitals are truly struggling to diagnose patients correctly.

It’s hard enough to be in excruciating pain, and not know what’s wrong with you, but once you add in having a previous addiction problem for the pain patient, the emergency physicians really need to put their detective hats on to ensure they aren’t just contributing to the patient’s substance abuse challenges.

This is precisely what seems to have unfortunately happened with one 29 year old female patient in Alaska. Amber Whitaker was a patient with a history of drug use, and her attending medical staff saw her during an ER visit where she came in reporting severe pain. The doctors could not locate the source of her pain, and discharged her with pain medications. The second time she came back to the ER, they admitted Amber and she tragically died within 24 hours of being admitted as a result of a horrible infection that quickly passed through her entire body.

EMS World reported that Whitaker’s family has pursued a lawsuit against the ER doctor for not properly diagnosing Amber with the infection and treating her accordingly. While to many, this may seem very cut and dry that certainly an ER physician should have the tools in place to spot a massive infection in a patient, in cases where the patient has a history of drug abuse, it seems to have made their job significantly tougher. Many doctors report seeing patients come in reporting pain, and they know the patient has a substance abuse problem, and they presume the patient is merely reporting pain in order to obtain prescription pain medications. There are systems in place now for hospitals to pull records of patients and see if they have been frequently visiting emergency rooms, or seem to have any patterns of prescription abuse. Some patients are just very good at telling the doctors exactly what they need to hear, and as a result, a patient could have a much more severe issue going on internally that a doctor may dismiss as an addict seeking meds. In the case of Amber, her family believes that she could have been treated for the infection, and would not have lost her life.

(Photo credit to Alaska Dispatch)

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