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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

He'd sailed through heart surgery: Failure to rescue

Six-year-old Christian Padilla of Fort Wayne, Indiana had sailed through a successful heart surgery to correct a birth defect in 2005, only to die days later from the preventable complications that characterize a failure to rescue case.

"The nurse didn't recognize his symptoms as something of concern," said the boy's father, Jim Padilla, 38, an assistant professor at a local university. "She described him in her medical notes as 'acting fidgety.'"

In reality, Christian was unconscious and suffering seizures as a result of the brain swelling that killed him, said his father, who received a $1.25 million combined settlement from the Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund and the hospital, according to the Indiana Department of Insurance.

It's not clear whether a drug reaction or another problem caused the swelling, said Padilla, who was at his son's side, frantic, throughout the ordeal.

"We got to the point where I had asked multiple times: 'Should he be sleeping so long?'" he said. "Over and over, I was told this was normal.'"

Such a failure to make a diagnosis in time, or to provide treatment in time, is called "failure to rescue."

The nurse's failure to notice Christian's subtle but increasing symptoms of distress is a key element of this measure of how well hospitals respond to unexpected complications — or don't, said Dr. Samantha Collier, chief medical officer for HealthGrades. "As an example, somebody comes in for an elective surgery like a knee replacement and turns up with vague symptoms, like shortness of breath, and the next thing you know, somebody dies," explained Dr. Collier. "It's obvious that if you go in for a knee surgery, you shouldn't die."

The term "failure to rescue" refers to cases where caregivers fail to notice or respond when a patient is dying of preventable complications in a hospital. Between 2004 and 2006, failure to rescue claimed more than 188,000 lives, amounting to about 128 deaths for every 1,000 patients at risk of complications, according to a report from HealthGrades, a health care ratings organization. That's more than any other measure found in the 2008 report, and indeed in five consecutive annual reports by Health Grade.

Advice to family members of a hospitalized relative: Insist that a Rapid Response Team help your relative if you see them declining rapidly in the hospital.

Thanks to JoNel Aleccia for the source story in MSNBC, and thanks to Helen Haskell.

1 comment:

Ken Farbstein said...

Comment from Diane S. Shank:
What a sad story, I wonder If the hospital had a Rapid Response Team?

In some hospitals the family is allowed/encouraged to initiate the rapid response. Statistics/studies show that only rarely ( if ever in the study I read) were they wrong about the patient's needs.

What I tell people too is, if there's no RRT, then call the doc yourself- do not depend on the nurse-or use the hospital chain of command.

It's like we lose our minds/backbone when we go into a hospital, myself included.