Law & Medicine

Good Notes Can Deter Litigation

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At 11:15 PM on August 31, 2014, a 19-year-old surgical technician with the United States Air Force presented to the emergency department (ED) of a hospital with lacerations to his right hand and fingers. At about 10:30 PM, he reported, he and his girlfriend had been sitting in the car, waiting for a late-night screening at the movie theater, when an unknown assailant reached through the open window of the driver’s side and slashed him with a knife. He said that he raised his right hand over his face to protect himself and ended up with lacerations to his pinky, ring, middle, and index fingers. (The police were subsequently notified and interviewed the patient and his girlfriend at the hospital. No arrests were ever made.)

While in the ED, the patient was examined and treated by a PA. At approximately 12:13 AM, the patient underwent an x-ray of his right hand. The PA personally reviewed the x-ray that he had ordered and saw no abnormalities. The x-ray was later interpreted by a physician as exhibiting no significant arthropathy or acute abnormality of the bones, no visible soft-tissue swelling, and no fracture or dislocation.

Given the lack of any positive pertinent findings, the PA irrigated the patient’s wounds and applied 1% lidocaine to all affected fingers so that pain would not mask any potential physical exam findings. He also used single-layer absorbable sutures to repair the injured digits. In addition, the PA tested the plaintiff for both distal interphalangeal (DIP) and proximal interphalangeal (PIP) flexion function and recorded normal results.

The PA discharged the patient from the ED at 5:56 AM on September 1, 2014. The patient was instructed to follow up with his primary care provider within 2 to 3 days for a wound check. He was also prescribed bacitracin to be applied 3 times a day, 500 mg of Keflex, 600 mg of ibuprofen, and hydrocodone/acetaminophen.

The PA provided no further care or treatment to the patient following the visit to the hospital’s ED. However, the patient contended that he suffered an injury to the tendons of his right hand, which ultimately required several surgical procedures. He sued the hospital, the PA, the PA’s medical office, his supervising physician, and the physician who performed the later surgical procedures. The supervising physician and the surgeon were ultimately let out of the case by summary judgment motions. The hospital, which was named as a defendant under a respondeat superior theory, was also dismissed from the case when it was established that the PA was employed by his medical office and not by the hospital directly. The PA stipulated that he was within his course and scope of employment at the time he treated the plaintiff.

Continue to: Plaintiff's counsel contended...


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