Medicolegal Issues

Avoiding the Pitfalls of “Half-visits”

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A 3-and-a-half-year-old girl presented to a pediatrician’s office with complaints of vomiting and high fever (103.3°). She was seen by a nurse practitioner, who diagnosed gastroenteritis, prescribed fluid replacement and acetaminophen, and sent the child home.

The NP did not chart the child’s blood pressure, pulse, or respiratory rate. She did note swollen lymph nodes and absence of diarrhea. The NP performed a flu screen but did not order a rapid strep test or urinalysis.

Several hours later, the child was taken to the emergency department with shortness of breath, cough, congestion, tachycardia, hypoxia, dehydration, and lethargy. She was admitted to the pediatric ICU with diagnoses of pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, hypoxemia, neutropenia, and sepsis. She was given IV antibiotics.

Several hours later, the decision was made to transfer the patient to a regional medical center. During transfer, she suffered cardiopulmonary arrest while being placed on a ventilator for transport. Upon arrival at the hospital, she arrested again and required resuscitation for several hours until spontaneous circulation could not be restored.

An autopsy concluded the child died of sepsis and shock from Group A beta-hemolytic streptococcal infection.

It was argued that the NP failed to diagnose and treat streptococcal toxic shock syndrome at the time of the child’s presentation. In support of this contention, it was argued that the NP had failed to perform basic follow-up when the child’s flu test came back negative and that the child’s swollen lymph nodes and lack of diarrhea both mitigated against the NP’s diagnosis of gastroenteritis.


The parties in this case reached a $950,000 settlement.

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