Florida – Emergency Medicine – Fever, Cough, Sore Throat, And Shortness Of Breath With An Oxygen Saturation Of 91%

On 1/30/2013, a 33-year-old female presented to an ED physician with complaints of fever, cough, and sore throat, which began three days prior.  The patient also complained of shortness of breath.

The ED physician obtained the patient’s vital signs and performed a physical exam.

The ED physician noted the patient’s pulse oximetry was 91%.  He interpreted the patient’s pulse oximetry as “mild desaturation.”

The ED physician noted the patient’s heart rate was 129.  On cardiac exam, he found the patient to be tachycardic.

The ED physician ordered lab work.  The patient’s white blood cell count was found to be elevated at 20.4.  The patient was also found to have bandemia.

The ED physician ordered a chest x-ray.  He interpreted the chest x-ray as showing no infiltrate and no acute disease.  However, the radiologist later reported the chest x-ray as showing right middle lobe infiltrate worrisome for pneumonia.

The patient was administered ketorolac, acetaminophen, and intravenous fluids.

On re-evaluation, the ED physician noted that the patient had diffuse wheezing.

The ED physician discharged the patient home with a diagnosis of viral syndrome, cough, febrile illness, leukocytosis, and tobacco abuse.

The patient’s presentation was consistent with possible septicemia.

On 2/2/2013, the patient returned to the emergency department with complaints of high fever, cough with sputum, and shortness of breath.

The patient was subsequently diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia, septic shock, acute kidney injury, acute respiratory failure, bilateral pleural effusions, and pneumothorax, requiring admission to the hospital, and later transfer to the ICU, for approximately twenty days.

The Medical Board of Florida judged the ED physician’s conduct to be below the minimal standard of competence given that he failed to evaluate, or failed to document evaluating the patient’s septicemia.  He also failed to check, or failed to document checking the patient’s lactate level.  He failed to obtain, or failed to document obtaining blood cultures for the patient.  He failed to treat, or failed to document treating the patient for septicemia.  The ED physician failed to administer, or failed to document administering, IV antibiotics for the patient.  He also failed to recheck, or failed to document rechecking the patient’s vital signs prior to discharging her home.  He failed to admit, or failed to document admitting the patient to the hospital.

The Medical Board of Florida issued a letter of concern against the ED physician’s license.  The Medical Board of Florida ordered that the ED physician pay a fine of $5,500 against his license and pay reimbursement costs for the case at a minimum of $2,004.13 but not to exceed $4,004.13.  The Medical Board of Florida also ordered that the ED physician complete five hours of continuing medical education in diagnosis of septicemia and five hours of continuing medical education in “risk management.”

State: Florida

Date: February 2017

Specialty: Emergency Medicine

Symptom: Fever, Cough, Head/Neck Pain, Shortness of Breath

Diagnosis: Pneumonia, Sepsis, Pulmonary Disease, Pneumothorax

Medical Error: Diagnostic error, Failure to examine or evaluate patient properly, Failure to order appropriate diagnostic test, Referral failure to hospital or specialist, Lack of proper documentation

Significant Outcome: Hospital Bounce Back

Case Rating: 4

Link to Original Case File: Download PDF

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