The Verdict is In
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Read a true story of how unconscious bias may have contributed to an unfortunate outcome, and how documentation of the care hindered the defense. A score of 75% or higher on the 4-question quiz will earn you 0.25 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™ and a score of 100% will enter you in our quarterly raffle to win $300 in VISA gift cards.

The raffle winner will be drawn and announced on September 30th, 2021. The survey will remain open for CME through July 30th, 2022. CME certs will be uploaded to Vituity University at the end of every month.

Bounce Backs, Biases, and Bad Documentation

The Verdict Image

Visit 1: A 50 y/o obese female presented to the ED for H/A, N/V x 2 days. No head injury and no other associated sxs. The physician documented her PMH and PSH were negative. Aside from a HR of 105, the documented exam was unremarkable (but limited). She continued to have H/A after IV fluids and Phenergan, so Dilaudid was ordered and the H/A improved. On dc, she felt well and was able to tolerate a PO challenge. The provider’s documentation had an inaccurate PMH and PSH, a fully templated exam except for tachycardia, a limited neuro exam of nothing more than alert and oriented, no mention of an abnormal WBC of 16, and no MDM. Dx: Headache. Rx for Norco and directed to f/u with her PCP.

Visit 2 (the next day): The patient returned and was seen by a different physician. She complained of H/A for 3 days, 8/10, constant, and progressively worse. The N/V reported yesterday resolved but noted a new onset of a pruritic rash only on her abdomen after taking the Norco. HPI was thorough. She reported a hx of migraines, HTN, and breast CA (remission). The ROS was a template and conflicted the HPI. “No rash”. Exam: 99.4, P 66, R 16, BP 118/75, Pulse ox is 93% but was interpreted as normal, 136 kg. A thorough neuro exam was documented. Her exam was otherwise unremarkable except skin which was (unedited) “warm, dry, no rash. Pruritic, red rash on abdomen after taking Vicodin.” The workup included a CT head which was negative. Repeat labs showed a WBC of 14.5 and Sodium of 129. The MDM possibly had a good thought process, but dictation typos made it difficult to understand. It was clear the physician was reassured by the slightly lower WBC and had no concern for meningitis. She was instructed to f/u with her PCP in 2 days, return if worse. Dx: Migraine. Rx for Compazine and Percocet.

Visit 3 (the next day): On this visit, the patient reported a new concern to yet another physician. The physician documented the patient developed left arm pain from her axilla to her wrist when lowering herself down on her bed 8 hrs ago and pain is worse with movement. She denied other symptoms. ROS was template except for reporting a headache and right forearm and upper arm pain. The rest of the template reported all systems to be negative including no rash. Exam: Afebrile, P is 82, BP 90/53, O2 sat 100% on RA, 136 kg. Painful ROM of right arm, no bony tenderness. There was tenderness over left biceps, 3/5 strength with flexion, 5/5 strength with extension. Skin warm and dry. There is no mention in the documentation of looking at the abdomen for the rash from the prior day. An EKG and humerus X-rays were performed. The physician's MDM says "this is an obese female with right arm pain that began while lowering herself down. Initial v/s revealed hypotension, but repeat BP was unremarkable and she denies lightheadedness, chest pain, SOB. She has biceps tenderness without ecchymosis or hematoma. She has limited strength secondary to pain, but full ROM. Pain improved with analgesia. Given the pain started abruptly upon lowering herself and X-rays were normal, I feel this is likely a muscle strain. Consider out-pt MRI with PCP. Return precautions were given." Dx: Left arm pain. Suspected biceps strain.
O2 sat at dc is 93% on RA.

The same day she went to see her PCP and they were unable to obtain a BP.

Visit 4 (same day): She returned to the ED with bilateral arm pain. She was diaphoretic and ill appearing. Her labs showed multisystem organ failure. She was promptly evaluated, appropriately treated, admitted to ICU but expired the next day from overwhelming septicemia.

Survey Questions

1. The fundamental purpose of documentation is first to aid continuity of care and enhance patient safety. Billing/reimbursement is another aspect, as well as defense if your care is called into question. Why were experts critical of the documentation on each of the first three visits?

  1. Visit 1: Inaccurate medical hx, lack of neuro exam for a cc of H/A, no discussion of why labs were performed and what the explanation was for the abnormalities.
  2. Visit 2: Conflicting HPI and ROS (template), poor description of the abdominal rash which on autopsy was labeled as cellulitis. A pulse ox of 93% in a healthy, non-smoker is not normal. MDM had many typos making hard to decipher what the physician was trying to say.
  3. Documented musculoskeletal/back exams were substandard (for a cc and dx of back pain)
  4. Visit 3: Was the arm pain on her right or left? The inaccuracies give the impression the pt’s complaint was not taken seriously and the physician’s evaluation was sloppy. The headache was not addressed, the new onset of rash from the day before was not looked for on exam or discussed, and the abnormal labs from prior visits were not taken into consideration.
  5. All the above

2. The essence of the plaintiff’s claim was the lab results and v/s obtained in the ED were underappreciated as indicating an ongoing infectious process. Infection should have been on the differential for all visits, and some experts felt care was substandard because the providers failed to act on the lab results and abnormal v/s. Other experts were more supportive as there were no definite clues to an infectious process on the visits. Which physician did all experts feel had the most exposure in terms of liability?

  1. ED Visit 1
  2. ED Visit 2
  3. ED Visit 3
  4. ED Visit 4

3. When a patient has recurrent visits, what is best practice?

  1. Providers should review prior records and address the findings (i.e.: rash, headache, abnormal labs)
  2. Diagnostic progression. Providers should consider more work-up, instead of less, including probing deeper with the patient's reported history
  3. Faced with a patient with successive, recurrent visits for similar issues, you must document clearly an MDM that supports the decision to discharge instead of escalating work-up or obtaining consultation towards admission.
  4. All the above

4. Biases affect our understanding, actions, and decisions around patient care and diagnostic errors are often the result of multiple interconnected biases. What types of potential biases could have been unconsciously present in this case?

  1. Requiring Dilaudid. Taking oxycontin for pain. Could this pt be drug seeking?
  2. Obesity. Do I inherently have bias due to societal stigma associated with unhealthy weight?
  3. Staff discussion "just an fyi... This pt has already been seen here 3x this week". Providers may take this warning the wrong way leading to an impression of the patient (and potential judgment) before seeing them - instead of a heads up to take more time and care to ensure patient safety.
  4. All the above

Two educational links for your review:

  1. Medicolegal documentation summary
  2. Cognitive bias and its influence on clinical Diagnosis

The survey link is still open to obtain CME credit. The raffle for this edition of The Verdict Is In has closed. *Congratulations to Dr. Christopher Louisell at St. Elizabeth Community Hospital in Red Bluff, CA for winning the raffle.*