Florida – Emergency Medicine – A Patient With Diabetes Presents With Hyperglycemia, Nausea, Vomiting, And A Bicarbonate Level

On 4/28/2015, a 69-year-old female presented to the emergency department with complaints of nausea and vomiting, which had persisted for two to three days.

The patient reported that members of her family had recently experienced similar symptoms.

The patient presented with a history of diabetes and high blood pressure.

An ED physician ordered a general chemistry lab.  The patient’s lab work revealed a high blood glucose level of 383 with a reference range of 65-99.  The patient’s lab work also showed that her bicarbonate level was low at 15 with a reference range of 21-32.  The low bicarbonate level indicated possible acidosis.

The ED physician treated the patient with insulin and antinausea medications and discharged her.  The ED physician did not further investigate the patient’s low bicarbonate level.  The ED physician did not assess the patient for diabetic ketoacidosis.

On 4/29/2015, the patient returned to the emergency department with recurrent nausea, vomiting, and worsening shortness of breath.

The patient was diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis and severe sepsis.

The patient’s condition deteriorated and she expired in the hospital on 5/4/2015.

The Board judged the ED physician’s conduct to be below the minimal standard of competence given that he failed to further investigate a low bicarbonate level by ordering additional laboratory studies such as a serum ketone, serum beta-hydroxybutyrate, or serum pH.

It was requested that the Board order one or more of the following penalties for the ED physician: permanent revocation or suspension of his license, restriction of practice, imposition of an administrative fine, issuance of a reprimand, probation, corrective action, payment of fees, remedial education, and/or any other relief that the Board deemed appropriate.

State: Florida

Date: October 2017

Specialty: Emergency Medicine

Symptom: Nausea Or Vomiting, Shortness of Breath

Diagnosis: Diabetes, Sepsis

Medical Error: Failure to order appropriate diagnostic test

Significant Outcome: Death

Case Rating: 4

Link to Original Case File: Download PDF

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