Vascular Medicine

Legal Pearls: Multiple Errors Lead to Tragic Death

  • A 19-year-old college student began experiencing chest pains and shortness of breath. Her boyfriend called 911. Emergency services arrived and took her to the hospital. The paramedic radioed the hospital on the way and told the nurse that she believed the patient had a pulmonary embolism and would need a CT scan.

    The only medical provider in the emergency department that night was a family nurse practitioner (NP) who had not had training in acute care or emergency medicine. When the patient arrived at the hospital, the NP initially ordered a CT scan of the chest as well as a urinalysis. When the urine sample came back, it was positive for methamphetamine, however it was negative for amphetamine, which was unusual. The NP cancelled the CT scan.

    Eight hours after the patient had arrived in the emergency department, the CT scan was performed. The results showed pulmonary emboli in both lungs of the patient. The patient was immediately transferred to another hospital where she was given clot-busting drugs, but she died within 2 hours of arrival. The patient had been in the original hospital for 11 hours with pulmonary emboli and had not been treated.

    Who was negligent?

    (Discussion on next page)

    Ann W. Latner, JD, is a freelance writer and attorney based in New York. She was formerly the director of periodicals at the American Pharmacists Association and editor of Pharmacy Times.