An Alabama urgent care center learned the hardest possible way that it’s a mistake to assume a young, healthy-appearing patient wouldn’t have a life-threatening condition in spite of worsening symptoms. The patient in question was a 20-year-old college student who first presented with shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, and sore throat. The diagnosis reached that day was bronchitis, for which she received a prescription for an antibiotic and advice to return if her symptoms worsened. They did; she returned and this time was given an inhaler. Two days later she was dead from a pulmonary embolism, a side effect from the birth control pills she had started taking recently. Her family sued the urgent care center for wrongful death, charging that her symptoms warranted deeper evaluation even though she was young and previously healthy. A jury agreed, awarding the plaintiffs $9 million. One factor that was critical in the jury’s decision was the fact that the provider who saw the patient during her second visit did not have access to the patient’s history; it was his first day working for the urgent care company and hadn’t received login credentials for their computer system yet. So, the lesson is twofold: 1) Don’t dismiss dire potential diagnoses just because a patient is “too young” and 2) Ensure all clinicians have full access to everything they need before they see a single patient.
Dismiss Potential Diagnoses Based on a Patient’s Age and You’re Inviting Death and Litigation