Making Patients Safer in an Unexpected Way

Posted on Tuesday, November 26th, 2013 at 1:00 am    

A common theme from our clients who have suffered a serious injury is that they want to prevent the same thing from happening to some other family.  Sometimes we try to accomplish this goal by asking for policy changes or new safety rules as part of a negotiated settlement.  But often, just the experience of being named a defendant in a malpractice suit –regardless of the outcome–can cause a health care provider be more careful in the future.  I always hope it’s for the right reason–patient safety–rather than simply to avoid being sued again.

But last week, we made a patient safer in a very direct and unexpected way.

Denise Kight is one of the nurses who helps prepare our malpractice cases.  Denise is a certified nurse midwife who continues to practice part-time on weekends at a local hospital.  She’s a very patient-oriented person, and her practical knowledge of the her field is enormously helpful as we represent clients in obstetric cases.  But she told me yesterday that her experience in our office may have helped save a patient’s life.

Some time ago, we reviewed a case involving the death of a young woman who had recently delivered a baby.  She had been readmitted to the hospital with shortness of breath and a rapid heart rate, and was found to have a cardiac rhythm abnormality called long QT syndrome (LQTS), which can cause sudden death.  She wasn’t treated, and died shortly after her release.  For various reasons, we weren’t able to take the case, but Denise performed a very thorough review of the medical issues.

And then over the weekend, while working at her “second job” in the hospital, Denise saw a patient  who reminded her of our client.  The woman had a rapid heart rate shortly after delivery, with no apparent explanation.  Remembering the LQTS, Denise got an EKG, recognized an abnormal QT interval, and sent the results to the cardiologist.  The diagnosis was confirmed, and the patient will be treated.

So even though we couldn’t bring suit for our client, her death very likely saved another life–in a most unexpected way.  Unfortunately, the providers who missed the diagnosis in our clients’ case haven’t had the benefit of learning about their mistake, but her work on behalf of our clients made Denise a more astute clinician.