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Premature Discharge of an Emergency Room Patient Results in Death and the Need For Careful ER Evaluation; NY Times


Posted on Oct 31, 2012

Dr. Michael Weinstock is an associate professor who works at Ohio State University’s emergency department. Dr. Weinstock described that anywhere between 600,000 and a million people who are admitted into an emergency room are sent home, “only to return within 72 hours because of medical errors.”

To further illustrate the point, Dr. Weinstock indicates that an average emergency doctor who has practiced at an emergency room for 30 to 35 years will have sent home 17 patients who ultimately die within seven days. Dr. Weinstock authored a book entitled “‘Bounceback: Medical and Legal,’” and discusses these situations in detail.

The family of 12-year-old Rory Staunton is not a stranger to this alarming fact. Rory was a sixth grader from the borough of Queens. He weighed 169 pounds and was 5 feet and 9 inches tall. During a spring semester at his school, Rory participated in an athletic sport inside the school gymnasium. One afternoon, Rory tried to catch a basketball. He dived for the basketball and as a result, he cut his arm.

A few hours later, Rory began to vomit after midnight. A family pediatrician examined Rory later in the day and noticed that Rory had a high fever, suffered from severe pain in his leg, and when the doctor pressed Rory’s skin with a finger, Rory’s skin did not return to its normal color. The pediatrician believed Rory had a stomach bug; he sent Rory to NYU Langone’s emergency room so that the boy could receive intravenous fluids.

There, an emergency room doctor noted that Rory seemed to have improved after receiving fluids, so the emergency room doctor sent Rory home with a drug to offset Rory’s nausea.

Much to his family’s dismay, however, the physicians failed to identify the true cause of Rory’s ailments—sepsis. Sepsis is a destructive process that compromises a person’s immune system. Sepsis is “a strain of bacteria that normally causes strep throat.” Instead, the strain of bacteria got into his blood presumably through the cut Rory received after diving for the basketball.

Symptoms that ultimately led to this diagnosis include the following: “The mottled skin noted by his pediatrician; the persistence of a very rapid pulse at NYU Langone; an abnormally high volume of immature white blood cells and significantly low numbers of platelets found by the hospital’s laboratory.”

Unfortunately, physicians failed to diagnose Rory’s ailments until it was too late. By that point, Rory’s organs were failing. Upon retrospect, it was premature for the emergency room physician to discharge Rory from the emergency room. Following this incident, medical professionals hope to educate others of this incident. They hope that physicians will be more careful before discharging a patient.

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Gerry Oginski
NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer