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Sicker than Before: Holding Hospitals Responsible for an Illness

Written by Berkowitz

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Connecticut Malpractice Attorneys Fighting for Victims of Hospital Acquired Illnesses

A serious illness can send even a healthy adult to the emergency room.

Each year, United States hospitals take in 140,000 to 710,000 patients for flu-related illnesses and complications alone.

During the 2015 to 2016 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates that over 310,000 people were hospitalized for a flu-related illness or complication.

When you feel severely ill, you turn to your local hospital for treatment. Sometimes, you must go to the emergency room because it is after hours for your physician. Other times, you might suffer serious complications.

Regardless of what brings you into the hospital, you should leave feeling better. Not worse.

Sadly, patients can enter the hospital and receive inadequate treatment, misdiagnosis, or leave with an illness that they did not have upon arrival.

In this post, we will discuss what happens when you leave the hospital sicker than you were when you arrived, such as with an infection or other illness.

Were You Ill When You Arrived?

One question to ask yourself is whether you were ill upon arrival. Perhaps you suffer from flu-like symptoms. Therefore, you go to the hospital for treatment. However, when you leave, you develop pneumonia from a secondary infection. Would the hospital be at-fault for the secondary infection or is it just the course of your flu?

What if you arrived at the hospital completely fine, but left with a staph infection or other severe infection? Who would be responsible then?

These are questions you must assess and answer when determining if you have a claim against your local hospital.

We will discuss these two scenarios in-depth: the hospital-acquired infection and leaving the hospital without proper treatment for an illness you already have.

When You Leave Sicker than You Were When You Arrived

Typically, in this case, you either receive inadequate treatment or a misdiagnosis of the proper illness.

A diagnosis by a physician, whether in a clinic or hospital, is done by reviewing your health history, examining your symptoms, and conducting a physical examination. Sometimes cultures are taken, blood work is completed, and other diagnostic tests performed (i.e. x-rays). Then, the physician comes to a diagnosis.

While diagnostic medicine is not always exact, there are protocols in place to prevent misdiagnoses instances. Often, a misdiagnosis occurs because a physician fails to follow such protocol or skips steps because they have a burdened patient load and need to move through each patient quickly.

Also, if there is an outbreak in the area for a particular illness (such as the flu), you might be misdiagnosed with that condition that is widespread, even if you do not have it.

Misdiagnosing the flu, for example, is a very common issue. The flu mimics other diseases, including strep throat, upper respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, and pneumonia.

Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis?

A misdiagnosis is different from a delayed diagnosis. If your illness eventually is diagnosed and treated correctly, but you suffer injury, you might have a delayed diagnosis. A misdiagnosis is dangerous because it can lead to severe health complications when a patient is not treated for the illness they have.

Using the flu example, you may be misdiagnosed with the common cold instead of the flu. While the flu typically exhibits fewer mild symptoms, it shares similarities to the common cold. Therefore, a rushed physician might write off your symptoms as the cold; instead, of what you have (the flu).

What Illnesses are Commonly Misdiagnosed?

Some illnesses are more commonly misdiagnosed than others. If you do not receive the proper diagnosis for these conditions, you could suffer serious complications. In fact, some of these conditions are life-threatening and require immediate treatment.

Some illnesses commonly misdiagnosed include:

  • Meningococcal Disease –Meningitis is a serious, life-threatening infection that must be treated immediately. Failure to diagnose and treat quickly could result in a coma, shock, and multiple organ failures. The disease does occur in the United States, and it is commonly misdiagnosed as a migraine or influenza. However, this disease spreads rapidly throughout the body and can quickly turn from a headache to a life-threatening infection by the time you get home from the hospital. To diagnose, blood and spinal fluid must be tested.
  • Appendicitis –Appendicitis is an infection and inflammation of the appendix. When left undiagnosed or untreated, you could suffer from severe pain, vomiting, nausea, and dehydration. Eventually, the appendix can rupture, leading to a high-risk for septic shock and infection.
  • Viral versus Bacterial Infection – A viral infection tends to pass on its own, while a bacterial infection requires antibiotics. Unfortunately, a physician in a hospital might write off your symptoms as a viral infection instead of taking the time to run cultures. Without antibiotics, a bacterial infection can worsen. For example, an untreated staph infection (an infection easily treated with a round of antibiotics), can become fatal.
  • Ear Infections – Ear infections might be misdiagnosed as a side effect of the cold or flu. However, this secondary infection is quite common.
  • Fever – Fevers are the body’s way to fight an infection, but what infection? When a patient arrives at the emergency room with a high fever, the physician has multiple options to choose from. The most common illnesses associated with fevers are hepatitis, the common cold, flu, drug reactions, mononucleosis, measles, roseola, and sinusitis. However, each of these conditions has different treatments. Therefore, when a patient receives an incorrect diagnosis, he or she might suffer.
  • Rashes – Rashes are a body’s reaction to chemicals, irritants, or a symptom of a mild to severe disease. A fungal infection, for example, could be misdiagnosed as dermatitis. A rash might also be a sign of a parasitic infection but diagnosed as something else. Some life-threatening conditions exhibit rashes, such as meningitis.
  • Headaches – When a patient arrives at the hospital with nothing more than a serious headache, it is hard for a physician to diagnose them properly. However, that doctor must perform a proper assessment to rule out serious illnesses. In fact, headaches can be a sign of something more serious, including a life-threatening infection, brain injury, swelling of the brain from another illness, and so forth.

Who is Responsible for a Misdiagnosis?

When you arrive at a hospital and leave feeling sicker than you did when you came, the misdiagnosis might not be apparent immediately. You might visit your family physician only to realize that the wrong illness was diagnosed at the emergency room; hence, why you felt worse leaving the hospital.

Not all misdiagnoses are malpractice, however. If the physician at the hospital conducted a proper examination and ran all diagnostic tests that another professional in a similar situation would have done, then no negligence occurred.

Instead, your attorney will review your medical records and look for a deviation from the standard or expected level of care. If a difference occurs, then you might have a malpractice claim.

However, who do you hold accountable?

In this instance, one or more parties may be held responsible for your illness worsening into a life-threatening or more serious condition, including:

  • The doctor diagnosing you in the hospital;
  • The laboratory technician;
  • The hospital or laboratory facility;
  • The nursing staff;
  • Alternatively, another healthcare provider in the facility.

What Happens When You Leave the Hospital with an Infection?

Sometimes you enter the hospital without a fever or without any illness, but a few days later you start exhibiting symptoms of something serious, such as an infection.

According to the recent research by the CDC, one out of every 20 patients in a hospital will develop a hospital-acquired infection (HAI).

Hospital infections are especially devastating, and when the infection occurs because of unsanitary hospital conditions or the actions of a hospital staff member, the hospital and that physician might be liable through a medical malpractice lawsuit.

What is an HAI?

A hospital acquired infection (HAI), is an infection that occurs while receiving routine or regular healthcare in a hospital or treatment facility. These infections occur in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and outpatient surgical centers.

The Most Common Infections and Illnesses Received in a Hospital

While the number of illnesses and infections from a hospital vary, there are some more common than others, including:

  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus:Also known as MRSA, this infection is genetically different from other types of bacterial infections. When treated with conventional antibiotics, the infection continues to spread. MRSA is responsible for several hard-to-treat infections in the United States and can be deadly.
  • Clostridium Difficile: Known as C. Diff, this infection is an inflammation of the colon caused by the bacterium C.Diff. It typically results in diarrhea and more serious intestinal conditions, including colitis. A life-threatening inflammation of the colon might occur too.
  • Staph Infection:  Staph is a common bacterium found on your skin and nose, but when it meets a surgical wound or a patient with a weakened immune system, it can become a severe infection.
  • Primary Bloodstream Infection: Known as a BSI, this is a leading, preventable complication of ill patients in a hospital setting. A BSI typically occurs during vascular access, such as an IV. If left untreated, it can lead to multiple organ system failure and shock.
  • Pneumonia: Patients in a hospital setting might contract pneumonia. This infection inflames the air sacs in the lungs and forces them to fill with fluid. A patient has difficulty breathing, high fever, pain, and severe weakness. Elderly individuals, children, and those with immune disorders may suffer life-threatening complications from pneumonia, especially if the condition is not treated quickly.

Is the Hospital at Fault for an Infection or Illness?

Not all diseases or infections obtained at a hospital or immediately after discharge are due to negligence. Hospitals are full of germs, just like public spaces. However, when a person is ill or undergoing a surgical procedure, they are at higher risk for contracting one of those illnesses or infections.

Hospitals are aware of the risk, which is why they have protocols in place to protect their patients. They use safeguards to prevent contamination of equipment or from spreading illnesses from one patient to the other.

Sadly, hospitals cut corners and skip protocols to save money or time. In the end, the patient is the one that suffers, because they contract a life-threatening illness. Some hospitals are more relaxed on policies, such as how often to sanitize in between patients.

When the hospital takes steps that no longer prevent an infection or illness, they are negligent. Therefore, you can hold them accountable through a malpractice lawsuit.

Can You Still Sue if the Hospital Treats the Infection?

An HAI might be found while you are in the hospital; therefore, staff will treat it aggressively. However, a delayed diagnosis or treatment might result in sepsis, which is a life-threatening infection spread by the blood and affects your organs. Eventually, it leads to septic shock, which can be fatal.

If your diagnosis of the HAI is delayed or treatment is not administered, the hospital and their staff could be liable for your injuries or the death of a loved one.

Most HAIs, however, are diagnosed after you leave the hospital. Unfortunately, once you exit the hospital, it becomes more difficult proving that your infection was from the hospital. Instead, your medical records must be assessed to decide if the infection resulted from care at the hospital or the infection came from another source in your home.

Bottom line, if you suffer an infection from a hospital or your illness is misdiagnosed, and you experience a serious complication, you must consult an attorney.

Call Berkowitz and Hanna, LLC today to schedule a no-obligation consultation. Contact us online to get started.