Failure to Diagnose and Treat Infections / Sepsis
Sepsis is a term that describes a severe illness caused by infection in the body. Often referred to as a systemic illness, the infection spreads throughout the body via the bloodstream. Although the original source of the infection is often undeterminable, it may begin from otherwise moderately benign infections such as pneumonia, an open bedsore (decubitus ulcer), or a urinary tract infection. Left untreated, this systemic infection can be lethal. Generally speaking, a patient who develops an infection is at risk, if that infection goes untreated, for developing sepsis. Initially, a patient may only experience the symptoms of a localized infection (for example, in the case of an open pressure ulcer/bed sore, the wound may be inflamed and reddened). Thereafter, as the infection spreads beyond the local area, a patient can experience such symptoms as a fever, whole body chills and even a change in neurological function. Lastly, most ominously, a patient's body will exhibit signs of shock and dysfunction including extremely low blood pressure (hypotension), shock and organ failure.
Many studies indicate that to make a diagnosis of the clinical syndrome sepsis, at least two of the following four symptoms must be present: (1) elevated white blood cell count; (2) elevated pulse; (3) elevated breathing rate; and (4) temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Other symptoms that are commonly associated with sepsis include shaking/chills; vomiting; diffuse body pain; and abnormal behavior/neurological abnormalities. A change in mental status and elevated breathing rate may be among the earliest signs of sepsis that should alert a health care provider of this potential ongoing process. Bruising and bleeding are also common signs of sepsis.
Unfortunately, deaths related to untreated or undiagnosed sepsis are becoming all too common. Sadly, many of these deaths occur even while a patient is being monitored in a hospital's intensive care unit. By and large, medical malpractice cases arising out a septic death stem from the health care provider's failure to diagnose an underlying infection and/or properly interpret the signs and symptoms that strongly indicate that infection is becoming systemic in nature. Although the potential sources for the initial infection are many, our office has extensive experience in "sepsis cases" in which the original infection occurred as a result of negligence surrounding a patient's catheter care (failure to properly clean and sterilize the catheter) and negligence in allow a patient to develop serious bed sores (decubitus ulcers) following a hospital procedure that left them bedridden for a period of time. In each of these instances, patients developed an infection that went undiagnosed (but was otherwise treatable), became septic, and ultimately died. These injuries and deaths are preventable in most instances by vigilance on the part of the health care providers, including but not limited to, doctors, nurses, residents, technicians and other care givers.