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New York boy's death amplifies need for better communication

A 12-year-old boy in New York was taken to a pediatrician by his parents, and later saw a doctor at a hospital emergency room. Both diagnosed him as merely suffering from a stomachache, and medicine was prescribed to handle this minor problem. About 72 hours later, his parents were faced with making funeral arrangements for him. The boy died because of an untreated infection that led to sepsis. The indications are that the death was the result of medical malpractice.

It now appears that a variety of things went wrong, ranging from the failure to consider an alternative diagnosis while choosing one that matched only some of the boy's symptoms to a failure to communicate critical test results. The test result snafu appears to be happening with disturbing frequency in hospitals in New York and elsewhere. Some observations made by the family pediatrician seem to have not been passed along to emergency room personnel.

The boy's tragic death has prompted hospital management teams in many facilities to seek to make changes in hospital procedures to try to prevent further senseless deaths. These may include, among other measures, the use of enhanced checklists, which will be used to enter a patient's symptoms into training robots. Three hospitals are experimenting with a mandatory procedure in which a child patient's parents are routinely informed of medical test results. Some have suggested that such procedures should be mandated by law.

One doctor who serves as the chief medical officer of a chain of 16 hospitals said that what happened to this boy was all too common and could have occurred at almost any hospital, given current routine procedures and practices.

Source: The New York Times, "Death of a Boy Prompts New Medical Efforts Nationwide," Jim Dwyer, Oct. 25, 2012

• Our firm handles a wide range of medical malpractice cases and other personal injury issues. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Newark, New Jersey, medical malpractice page.

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