Medicolegal Issues

Postpartum life-threatening strep infection

Notable judgements and settlements

Additional Medical Verdicts
• Failure to follow-up on abnormal Pap
• Liver disease led to stillbirth


 

Postpartum life-threatening strep infection
A pregnant woman received prenatal care from a midwifery practice. A week before her scheduled delivery, the patient became ill with fever and vomiting and visited her midwife. While tests were still pending, the midwife decided to admit the mother to the hospital for induction of labor. The baby was born by vaginal delivery under the midwife’s care. The mother remained in the hospital for observation.

Two days after delivery, the mother began to have nausea, vomiting, and a low-grade fever. The nurse called the midwife, who ordered acetaminophen (Tylenol) but did not come to examine the patient. Two hours later, the nurse notified the midwife that the patient’s condition had worsened and that she was experiencing abdominal pain; the midwife ordered oxycodone. Over the next few hours, the midwife was apprised of the patient’s condition several times by telephone, but she never came to examine the patient nor did she ask her supervising ObGyn to examine the patient.

The next morning, a second midwife noted that the patient was experiencing an itchy rash on her extremities and abdomen. A complete blood count (CBC) showed a “critical lab value” of 44% band neutrophils (normal, 0% to 10% for the hospital laboratory). The second midwife and nurse told the supervising ObGyn that the patient otherwise looked well; he discharged the patient.

At home, the patient’s condition worsened. Her husband called the ObGyn several times and took her to the emergency department (ED) that evening. Her condition deteriorated and she was transferred to another facility where she was diagnosed with a life-threatening Group A Streptococcus (GAS) infection. After weeks of treatment for sepsis, the patient’s foot was amputated.

Patient's claim: The first midwife was negligent in her postpartum treatment of the patient; she should have come to the hospital to examine the patient or have requested that the supervising ObGyn examine the patient. The rash and CBC test results should have initiated further treatment and investigation; the patient should not have been discharged. GAS was not found or treated in a timely manner, resulting in sepsis and amputation.

Defendants' defense: The case was settled during the trial.

Verdict: A $2,500,000 Massachusetts settlement was reached with the midwife, her practice, and the ObGyn.

Failure to follow-up on abnormal Pap
A woman in her 50s reported abnormal bleeding to her gynecologist. Results of an endometrial biopsy were negative for cancer; the gynecologist prescribed hormone therapy. The patient continued to bleed until she entered menopause.

Ten years later, the bleeding returned. Results of a Pap test indicated atypical endometrial cells; an ultrasound showed a markedly abnormal endometrium. The gynecologist recommended a hysteroscopic dilation and curettage (D&C). When he attempted the procedure it ended prematurely because he was unable to enter the patient’s endometrium. The patient’s discharge instructions indicated that she should call the physician for follow up. In a letter to the patient written a month later, the physician discussed the abnormal Pap test results and indicated that the patient had 2 options: another D&C under ultrasound guidance or hysterectomy. He also noted that he would contact the patient’s primary care physician (PCP) for input.

Two years later, the patient returned to the gynecologist because the bleeding, which had never stopped, had increased in intensity. Endometrial cancer was diagnosed.

Patient's claim: The gynecologist never followed up with the patient or her PCP after the incomplete D&C. There is no record that communication ever occurred between the gynecologist and PCP. Lack of follow-up and treatment resulted in progression of the cancer from stage 1 to stage 3C, with a 5-year survivability of 47% (stage 1 survivability is 83%).

Physician's defense: The gynecologist was surprised that no one had ever followed up with the patient. The patient was comparatively negligent for failing to seek medical care for the 2-year period.

Verdict: A $430,000 Minnesota settlement was reached at mediation.

LIVER DISEASE LED TO STILLBIRTH
A 37-year-old woman reported nausea, vomiting, headaches, heartburn, and upper abdominal pain to her ObGyn several times during her third trimester. She had been pregnant before and knew that this pregnancy “felt” different. She went to the ED 1 week before the birth of her child, but she was discharged. The child was stillborn.

Parent's claim: Neither the ObGyn who provided prenatal care nor the on-call ED ObGyn ordered laboratory testing, which would have revealed a rare disease: acute fatty liver of pregnancy. Action could have saved the life of her child.

The patient’s ObGyn disregarded the patient’s reported symptoms; no blood work or liver testing was done. The ObGyn should have recognized the symptoms of liver disease that presented during the third trimester. A diagnosis of liver disease would have initiated induction of labor.

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