Law & Medicine

Not All Stool Discussions Are Unproductive

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On August 22, 2014, a baby girl was born healthy and at full term. She was discharged on August 24 after a routine hospital stay. A day later, the infant’s mother called the pediatrician’s emergency after-hours hotline, in distress. She was concerned because the infant had not had a bowel movement since August 23. She was also concerned that each feeding was lasting an hour. A nurse told the mother that her concerns would be discussed in a routine follow-up appointment scheduled for the next morning.

At the appointment, the pediatrician noted the infant was having feeding problems and had lost 11% of her at-birth weight. The pediatrician also noted a high respiratory rate and abnormal skin coloring. However, the pediatrician concluded that the infant’s feeding problems had resolved, reassured the parents she was healthy, and discharged her, telling her parents to return in 2 weeks.

On August 29, the mother again called the pediatrician’s office, this time with concerns over a decrease in the infant’s feeding. A nurse told her to bring the infant to the emergency department (ED). At the ED, the infant was found to have lost 12% of her weight since birth and to be severely dehydrated. Due to hypovolemia, health care providers could not complete lab tests on the infant until aggressive resuscitation had been performed for 4 hours. The infant’s lab values showed she had hypernatremia, which put her at risk for brain injury through a decrease in cellular hydration, increased vascular permeability, or elevated intracranial pressure.

The infant did sustain a permanent brain injury from the condition: right-side paralysis. Her multi-organ failure from dehydration also caused significant damage to her left kidney, which stopped functioning altogether in 2017.

The infant sued her pediatrician and his office. Plaintiff’s counsel stated that the infant’s early weight loss was a red flag and that the standard of care required the pediatrician to order in-office follow-up within 24 hours to confirm if the loss had been corrected. Plaintiff’s counsel also alleged the baby’s respiratory rate and poor coloring were also red flags for dehydration. He further alleged that if the infant had returned to the office, her weight loss would have prompted supplementation before the dehydration caused her brain injury.

VERDICT

The case was settled for $1,375,000.

COMMENTARY

This case merits discussion because it involves a type of patient many clinicians see in practice. Complaints of newborn and infant feeding problems are common. Most cases require reassurance and troubleshooting about common feeding problems—but the clinician must be on the lookout for serious issues. Thus, it is helpful to revisit expected newborn feeding, stooling, and weight status.

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