California – Neurology – Three EEGs Ordered Without Indication And Diagnosis Of Epilepsy

A 9-year-old girl was referred by her pediatrician to a child neurologist for headaches.  The child neurologist first saw the patient on 9/10/2009. The patient’s mother stated that the patient’s headaches started in 7/20/2009.  The patient had no episodes of loss of consciousness of any type. The child neurologist’s review of systems revealed headaches, neck pain, and back pain.  The child neurologist noted headaches following a viral infection in July 2009 described as constant tension and pressure with nausea, photophobia, and difficulty concentration.  The child neurologist’s diagnosis was childhood migraine and prescribed 10 mg amitriptyline. The child neurologist ordered an MRI to rule out neoplasm and aneurysms. The child neurologist also ordered an EEG, which was not indicated for headaches.

On 9/18/2009, the EEG was performed.  The technician described the EEG with “sharp and slow waves.” On 9/30/2009, the child neurologist saw the patient for an office visit.  The child neurologist read the EEG as showing “generalized polyspike and wave which was synchronous bilaterally over both hemispheres which is highly suggestive of a generalized seizure disorder.”  The child neurologist stopped the amitriptyline 10 mg she prescribed at the last visit because of “seizures on EEG.” She ordered a neurosurgery consult and planned a separate meeting with the mother.

The child neurologist next saw the patient on 11/4/2009.  The child neurologist prescribed Depakote at 250 b.i.d. The patient’s Depakote level was at 72.  The patient reported no seizures or auras, but the child neurologist in her diagnosis documented “seizures, breakthrough.”  The child neurologist ordered a second video EEG with computer analysis without medical indication. The EEG was performed on 11/25/2009.  The technician report showed no abnormality. The child neurologist’s report was of generalized polyspike and slow waves bilaterally, “highly suggestive of generalized epilepsy,” with localized slowing in the left temporal area.

On 2/11/2010, the child neurologist saw the patient for a follow-up visit.  The chief complaint was learning difficulty. The Depakote level was 53. The patient denied experiencing any auras and/or any seizures.  On the next visit, on 5/11/2010, the patient still did not report any auras or seizures. The child neurologist’s diagnoses were generalized epilepsy, childhood headaches, adverse effect of medication, and learning disability.  The child neurologist ordered a third video EEG with computer analysis to rule out seizures and BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) to rule out hearing loss, despite no medical indication. The video EEG was performed on 6/28/2010 and was normal.  On 7/12/2010, the child neurologist saw the patient for a follow-up visit. The patient denied having headaches and seizures. The child neurologist ordered a 72-hour ambulatory EEG despite the normal EEG.

The child neurologist next saw the patient on 1/19/2011 for a follow-up visit.  The patient’s mother complained that the patient’s math and history test results were still low.  The patient had no witnessed seizures and was tolerating Keppra well. Despite the negative findings, the child neurologist diagnosed “seizures, breakthrough, rule out.”  The child neurologist ordered another video EEG. At this point in time, the 72-hour video EEG she previous ordered on 7/12/2010 had not been performed.

On 2/18/2011, a 72-hour ambulatory EEG was performed.  The child neurologist’s last visit with the patient was on 3/14/2011.  On the last visit, the child neurologist noted that the 72-hour ambulatory EEG was normal.  She discontinued Keppra. She diagnosed the patient with “arachnoid cyst, middle cranial fossa; generalized epilepsy; learning disability; and adverse effect of medication given correctly.”

The Medical Board of California judged that the child neurologist’s conduct departed from the standard of care because she ordered 3 video EEGs and an ambulatory EEG without medical indication, ordered a BAER with no medical indication, misdiagnosed epilepsy on a patient with no medical history of seizures of any type, and made diagnoses of breaththrough seizures with no basis, contrary to her own findings that were no auras or seizures reported.

The Medical Board of California placed the child neurologist on probation and ordered the child neurologist to complete a medical record keeping course, a professionalism program (ethics course), an education course (at least 40 hours per year for each year of probation), and a clinical training program equivalent to the Physician Assessment and Clinical Education Program offered at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.  The child neurologist was assigned a practice monitor and was prohibited from supervising physician assistants and advanced practice nurses.

State: California

Date: January 2018

Specialty: Neurology, Pediatrics

Symptom: Headache, Nausea Or Vomiting, Back Pain, Head/Neck Pain

Diagnosis: N/A

Medical Error: Unnecessary or excessive diagnostic tests, False positive

Significant Outcome: N/A

Case Rating: 2

Link to Original Case File: Download PDF

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