Medication Error: Jury Finds that Delayed Antibiotic Caused Patient’s Mental Incapacity

April 1, 2012 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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A jury found a Philadelphia hospital negligent for the delayed administration of antibiotics to a patient who exhibited symptoms of herpesviral encephalitis and awarded $23 million in compensatory damages to the plaintiff, the sister of the now-incapacitated patient.

The patient, whose face had begun to droop on one side and who had been experiencing viral symptoms (e.g., fever, headache, nausea) for four to five days, was taken to the hospital's emergency department (ED) at 1 p.m. after she sounded confused during a telephone conversation with her mother. At 2:30 p.m., the ED physician ordered a computed tomography (CT) scan, which produced normal results; he then contacted a neurologist who ordered a lumbar puncture. The results of the lumbar puncture, received at 5:30 p.m., showed inflammation, indicating a viral infection; the patient was then admitted to the hospital and given intravenous treatment. On admission, the attending physician consulted with an infectious disease specialist at 6:30 p.m. over the telephone, and the specialist ordered that the patient be placed on acyclovir stat; however, the attending physician wrote an order for the antibiotic without any indication of urgency and left after her shift ended 15 minutes later. The infectious disease specialist arrived at the hospital at 7:30 p.m. and ordered acyclovir stat at 8 p.m., but acyclovir was not administered to...

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