Managing Your Practice

Did poor communication lead to her death?


A woman in her 50s underwent hysterectomy performed by a surgeon, who then assigned an ObGyn to her follow-up care. The day after surgery, the patient had severe abdominal pain with decreased blood pressure and increased heart and respiration rates. The ObGyn admitted the patient to the intensive care unit (ICU), and then designated Dr. A, the patient’s family practitioner to continue her care. Dr. A was not available, so his associate, Dr. B, took over. Over the phone, Dr. B requested pulmonary, cardiology, and infectious disease consults. In the ICU the next day, the patient suffered respiratory arrest and was intubated. When her abdomen became rigid and swollen, emergency surgery revealed that a colon perforation had allowed fecal matter to reach the abdominal cavity. The woman died the next day from complications of sepsis, peritonitis, and multiple organ failure.

ESTATE’S CLAIM None of the physicians assigned to her care ever saw the patient in the ICU. Earlier surgery could have prevented her death. The physicians involved in her care failed to communicate with each other properly.

DEFENDANTS’ DEFENSE The case was settled during the trial.

VERDICT A $3.2 million Illinois settlement was reached with the hospital.

When a 32-year-old woman became pregnant with her third child, she sought treatment at a clinic. The mother informed the nurse practi-tioner that her two other children had been diagnosed with low platelets at birth, but they were now healthy and had no further problems.

The woman gave birth vaginally to her third child at term. The newborn had Apgar scores of 8 and 8, at 1 and 5 minutes, respectively. However, the child’s platelet level was 26 x 103/µL. The baby was transferred to another hospital the next day, where he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus and neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia. He suffered a massive intracranial hemorrhage, which caused severe neurologic injuries and brain damage. A shunt was placed. The child has significant cognitive deficits as well as cerebral palsy with mild developmental delays. Testing showed that each parent had a different genotype for platelet antibodies.

PARENTS’ CLAIM The parents should have been tested for platelet antibodies prior to this birth due to the family’s history. A prenatal diagnosis of neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia would have allowed for treatment with gamma globulin, which could have avoided the intracranial hemorrhage.

DEFENDANTS’ DEFENSE The case was settled during the trial.

VERDICT A $4.8 million California settlement was reached.

At 36 weeks’ gestation, a mother called an ambulance when her membranes ruptured and she noticed an umbilical cord prolapse.

The child was in a breech presentation, experienced oxygen deprivation, and sustained severe neurologic damage.

PARENTS’ CLAIM The ambulance service was negligent in its care. The ambulance service dispatcher advised the mother to stand, squat, and push before the ambulance arrived. The ambulance attendants failed to take basic actions to relieve pressure on the prolapsed umbilical cord. The ambulance did not stop at two closer hospitals, which delayed arrival for an additional 20 minutes.

DEFENDANTS’ DEFENSE The case was settled during the trial.

VERDICT A $2.7 million settlement was reached, but before it was submitted to the court for approval, the child died. The defendants then sought to revoke the settlement, but the parents claimed breach of contract. The defendants claimed that the agreement was orally negotiated independent of defense counsel and was unenforceable due to the child’s death and lack of court approval. A Texas judge issued summary judgment on breach of contract and awarded $2.7 million plus $40,000 in attorney fees to the parents.

A mother received an epidural injection during vaginal delivery. Six hours later, the patient asked a nurse for a warm compress to place on her perineum. The nurse heated the compress in a microwave and then applied it to the perineal area. The compress caused second- and third-degree burns to the patient’s labia and inner left thigh. She underwent surgical repair of the burned area, and, a year later, had plastic surgery.

PATIENT’S CLAIM The nurse was negligent in overheating the compress.

DEFENDANTS’ DEFENSE The hospital agreed that the nurse who heated and applied the compress had been negligent. The hospital paid all medical expenses relating to the burns, including follow-up surgeries.

VERDICT A $190,000 Utah verdict was returned for noneconomic damages.

A 30-year-old physician was pregnant with her first child. Due to a low amniotic fluid index and lagging fetal growth, she saw a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, who suggested labor induction at 39 weeks.

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Dos, don’ts, and dollars: Making the switch to an EHR

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