On-Call Physician Must Defend against Suit Alleging Failure to Admit ED Patient

June 28, 2023 | Strategic Insights for Health System


After consulting with the on-call internist, an emergency physician discharged an emergency department (ED) patient with neck pain and muscle spasms; the patient died 12 days later after developing sepsis. Concluding that the internist owed the patient a duty of care because there was a physician-patient relationship between them, the Appellate Court of Illinois, Fourth District, reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the internist and his practice, allowing the case to proceed against them.

The patient's symptoms began the evening of July 25, 2017, with a bad headache and a fever. When he awoke, the pain had spread to his neck. He could not move his head side to side or up and down, and any movement worsened the pain. When the patient presented to the ED the next evening at 7:08 p.m., his right elbow had a bug bite and swelling. He reported severe pain in his right neck and trapezius area, as well as some nausea. According to his hospital records, he had no fever or headache that day. The emergency physician examined the patient, ordered some tests, and prescribed ketorolac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, and orphenadrine, a muscle relaxant. Although the medications helped somewhat, the patient...

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