The Dangers of Delaying Diagnosis and Treatment of Brain Injuries
During an accident or a fall, a bump to the head is not all too uncommon. Despite suffering a headache, most people may not even think twice about it. However, the damage could be much worse than what is visible from the eye.
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can happen after a forceful blow to the head(which may or may not penetrate the skull) or when the head violently moves back and forth. This is known as a Coup-Contrecoup brain injury. This sudden and brutal movement actually causes internal “bruises” on the brain which damages its soft tissue. These types of brain injuries typically happen as a result of car accidents, slip and falls, or bumping heads while playing sports.
The facts about mild-to-moderate traumatic brain injuries
Mild-to-moderate forms of traumatic brain injuries are much more common than many people think. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that each year over 1.5 million Americans suffer from a traumatic brain injury. Of those 1.5 million, reportedly 230,000 people are hospitalized yet recover from their injuries.
Unfortunately, it is also reported that between 80,000 to 90,000 people will develop long-term disabilities from TBI — and those numbers could be even higher. A study conducted on young adults who experienced moderate-to-severe forms of traumatic brain injuries found that those injuries are likely to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease later in life by more than double.
Seeking immediate medical attention after a head injury could help prevent or lessen the chances of sustaining permanent brain damage down the line. However, these are known to be time-sensitive injuries, especially if severe, and they can be extremely dangerous if left untreated. And it is not all too rare for treatment to be delayed, either.
Common causes for delays in brain trauma treatment
While patients should seek medical treatment quickly enough after hitting their head, doctors or hospitals may often be to blame for the delay. For example, if the patient is not showing certain signs of major trauma, doctors (who have their own confirmation biases that build up after years of practice) may not think their condition is all too severe and dismiss their concerns, or forgo certain testing that, in the past, was unnecessary for other patients.
A study published to the National Library of Medicine found that those who were promptly treated for head injuries were admitted to the trauma center in the hospital within a little over one hour on average while those who saw a delay in treatment had to wait for just over four hours. This study dove deeper into some of the common causes for delays in treatment:
Sustaining the injury at home
When compared to a patient sustaining a head injury outdoors at a public place, this study showed that those who suffered a head injury while at home were significantly more likely to see a delay in treatment. This could be because those who had fallen outdoors in public or got into a car accident were transported via ambulance with another medical professional starting to diagnose their symptoms and relay that to the staff at the hospital. If someone happened to fall down the stairs at home and had another family member transport them to the hospital, staff could be less aware of how dire their symptoms are.
This study defined high-energy trauma as head injuries resulting from speeds over 15 mph or falls from over 6.5 feet high. If the accident happened under these parameters, emergency personnel were likely to have the patient wait as they tended to those suffering from high-energy traumas.
Not consulting a physician prior to the hospital visit
If there were no doctor’s notes or records about the head injury before coming to the hospital, emergency staff were more likely to make the patient wait, especially if they were not displaying additional signs of a brain injury. If there were records, a doctor may have already diagnosed the patient with a traumatic brain injury and sent them to the hospital for further treatment.
Stable blood pressure
When going to the emergency room, staff often take a patient’s vitals to ensure they are stable enough to wait as they tend to other patients in more critical condition. In cases of traumatic brain injuries, high blood pressure can signify damage. However, patients should not simply be dismissed if blood pressure is stable.
Normal pupillary light reflexes
One of the ways to detect a traumatic brain injury is by testing a patient’s pupillary light reflexes, which assess the brain stem function. If a patient passes this test, hospitals may also believe their condition is not that severe.
Delays in care can be considered medical malpractice in Kentucky
Let’s imagine that a young adult male fell down his stairs at home and hit his head pretty hard on the concrete basement floor. He had someone else drive him to the hospital for evaluation and treatment, but was left for hours in the waiting room as the medical professionals tended to car accident victims that looked to be in worse shape.
When they finally admitted him, they did a couple routine exams and diagnosed him with a concussion and sent him on his way, despite the man telling doctors he was concerned with how hard he hit his head and asking for additional tests just to be sure it was nothing more serious. Days later, his memory slowly became less sharp and his motor skills slowly started to go. He went back to the hospital where they conducted a CT scan and noticed bleeding on the brain.
While this is a pretty extreme example, it is not necessarily an uncommon one. And if it happens to you or your loved one, you may have a claim for medical negligence.
Some cases of traumatic brain injuries, like cerebral contusion, epidural hematoma, and subdural hematoma, are considered to be life-threatening. These are all forms of active bleeding on the brain and require urgent medical treatment or the effects can be fatal. Typical concussions require little-to-no medical treatment, which is why medical professionals do not always work urgently if they are suspected. Cerebral contusions tend to have very similar symptoms as a regular concussion, but they can be fatal if left untreated.
If you believe you or someone you love are a victim of medical malpractice, our Kentucky attorneys want to help. Make an appointment for a free consultation with a member of our experienced team. We can provide guidance on next steps, speak to insurance companies on your behalf, and advocate for you throughout the entire legal process. You don’t need to go through this alone. Call the office of Wilt & Associates, PLLC, at 502-253-9110, or reach out through our contact form. We serve individuals and families in Louisville and Lexington, and throughout the state.