Malpractice in Emergency Medicine-A Review of Risk and Mitigation Practices for the Emergency Medicine Provider

J Emerg Med. 2018 Nov;55(5):659-665. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2018.06.035. Epub 2018 Aug 27.


Background: Malpractice in emergency medicine is of high concern for medical providers, the fear of which continues to drive decision-making. The body of evidence evaluating risk specific to emergency physicians is disjointed, and thus it remains difficult to derive cohesive themes and strategies for risk minimization.

Objective: This review evaluates the state of malpractice in emergency medicine and summarizes a concise approach for the emergency physician to minimize risk.

Discussion: The environment of the emergency department (ED) represents moderate overall malpractice risk and yields a heavy burden in finance and time. Key areas of relatively high litigation occurrence include missed acute myocardial infarction, missed fractures/foreign bodies, abdominal pain/appendicitis, wounds, intracranial bleeding, aortic aneurysm, and pediatric meningitis. Mitigation of risk is best accomplished through constructive communication, intelligent documentation, utilization of clinical practice guidelines and generalizable diagnoses, careful management of discharge against medical advice, and establishing follow-up for diagnostic studies ordered while in the ED (especially x-ray studies). Communication breakdown seems to be more predictive of malpractice litigation than injury experienced.

Conclusions: There are consistent diagnoses that are associated with increased litigation incidence. A combination of mitigation approaches may assist providers in mitigation of malpractice risk.

Keywords: emergency medicine; litigation; malpractice; risk mitigation; risk reduction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Medicine / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / standards*
  • Humans
  • Malpractice / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Risk Management*