California – Interventional Radiology – Pain And Cold Foot After Arteriogram, Angioplasty, And Atherectomy

On 6/26/2015, a patient presented to an interventional radiologist’s outpatient clinic for a left lower extremity arteriogram and intervention for a thrombosed left lower extremity bypass graft, originally placed in 2007.  The patient had an extensive medical history including a renal transplant, diabetes, right leg amputation, and multiple revascularization procedures, including prior thrombectomies of the left lower extremity graft.

The patient reportedly had pain both at rest and with activity, and had a cold left leg prior to and immediately before the procedure.  In order to improve blood flow in the patient’s left leg, the interventional radiologist performed an arteriogram, angioplasty, tPA administration, atherectomy, and stent placement within the left lower extremity, including an attempt to revascularize the native superficial femoral artery.

Images show an initially thrombosed femoral artery to popliteal bypass graft and deep femoral artery.  Further images show balloons inflated in various parts of the graft and native arteries.  Final images show flow through a patent common femoral artery (CFA), bypass graft, and peroneal and anterior tibial arteries.  The deep femoral artery appeared occluded shortly beyond its origin.

After the procedure, a nurse noted the patient’s foot was cold.  The interventional radiologist also assessed the patient post-procedure and found the foot to be cold, both two (2) and four (4) hours post-procedure.  The interventional radiologist recommended to the patient that she travel to the emergency department of a university hospital.

The patient was then driven by her companion two hours to the emergency department, where she was assessed by an ED physician and a vascular surgeon.  She was taken to the operating room where she underwent surgery, which included a left leg above-the-knee amputation and a deep femoral artery thrombectomy.

The Board stated that the standard of care for an interventional radiologist when performing an intervention is to recognize complications and to take appropriate steps to manage them.  Although the patient’s foot was reportedly cold and painful immediately post-procedure, it can take some time for the foot to warm, and pain could be caused by reperfusion.  However, it is clear that two to four hours after the procedure, the interventional radiologist recognized that the patient’s leg had not improved and was worsening and that further care was needed.  Thus, when it became clear to the interventional radiologist that the foot was not improving, he recommended that the patient seek more treatment.

The records of the interventional radiologist’s care of the patient were inadequate in that they do not state whether the patient’s clinical status post-procedure was worse than before the procedure.  A post-procedure pulse examination was lacking which would have helped in determining the patient’s clinical status.

The patient reported to the ED physician that the pain began after the procedure and steadily worsened, which indicates that the patient rethrombosed her bypass graft and deep femoral artery (source of collateral flow) immediately.  This event should have been recognized by the interventional radiologist.

However, the interventional radiologist’s documentation for this patient was inadequate and sparse.  The medical records lacked documentation of the change in the patient’s status post-procedure, the discussion with the patient leading up to the discharge from his center, and the patient’s disposition.  The interventional radiologist discharged the patient to her own care directly from his clinic instead of calling Emergency Medical Services (EMS), which indicates that the interventional radiologist failed to recognize the gravity of what was occurring.

His conduct did not ensure that the patient would be attended continuously until definitive treatment was given.  The patient arrived at the emergency department at approximately 8:00 p.m., two hours after the patient was discharged from the interventional radiologist’s clinic.

Had the process of discharge and transfer occurred earlier, it is possible that the outcome could have been different.  The interventional radiologist failed to communicate with the ED physician ahead of the patient’s arrival.  The interventional radiologist gave the patient a CD of the procedure, a copy of the medical records, and his phone number, as an attempt of communicating with the emergency department personnel regarding the events that occurred at the interventional radiologist’s clinic.

However, the interventional radiologist failed to telephone the ED physicians at the emergency department to give a verbal report on the patient and to provide a more informative transition and preparation for continued care.  In expecting the practitioners at the emergency department to call the interventional radiologist to gain more information, the interventional radiologist improperly sought to shift his responsibility to provide needed information about the patient to the staff at the emergency department.

The interventional radiologist failed to maintain documentation regarding the change in the patient’s status post-procedure, the discussion leading up to the discharge from his center, and the patient’s disposition.  He stated that he was not sure if he documented these events, and if he did, he sent them with the patient.  Documentation sent with the patient has since been lost.  Documentation of a change in the patient’s clinical status was lacking.  The medical records lacked documentation of what was discussed regarding the patient’s disposition and where she was told to go for further care.

The Board judged the interventional radiologist’s conduct to have fallen below the standard of care for the following reasons:

1) The interventional radiologist failed to offer to transport the patient by ambulance or EMS services to ensure that she would be attended continuously until definitive treatment was given. His failure to do so indicates that he failed to understand the gravity of the situation which was occurring.

2) The interventional radiologist failed to adequately communicate with the emergency department, to call ahead of time to inform them that the patient was in transit, and to inform them of the circumstances.

3) The interventional radiologist failed to maintain adequate and accurate records.

The Board issued a public reprimand.

State: California

Date: December 2017

Specialty: Interventional Radiology, Vascular Surgery

Symptom: Extremity Pain

Diagnosis: Acute Ischemic Limb, Post-operative/Operative Complication

Medical Error: Diagnostic error, Delay in proper treatment, Underestimation of likelihood or severity, Failure of communication with other providers, Lack of proper documentation

Significant Outcome: Permanent Loss Of Functional Status Or Organ

Case Rating: 3

Link to Original Case File: Download PDF

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