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What Happens When Sepsis is Misdiagnosed?

Posted on September 9, 2019

It makes sense that a life-threatening condition like sepsis should be treated as soon as possible. But the newest guidelines advocating a one-hour treatment window may not give medical professionals enough time to make an accurate diagnosis in the ER, according to a recent article. Such rapid interventions could lead to problems for patients with and without sepsis.

An experienced ER clinician is required to diagnose sepsis. Too often, however, triage nurses must step in and make the diagnosis, especially when there’s a time constraint. That increases the chances of misdiagnosis. Patients incorrectly identified as having sepsis could then be exposed to the risks of unnecessary treatment, including broad spectrum antibiotics and large volume IV fluid replacement. This also may delay other care that these patients should be receiving for their condition, which is not sepsis.

In addition, the article notes that for patients with sepsis, “suboptimal treatment of sepsis can be fatal.” If antibiotics are administered too early or too late, or if the fluid replenishment is too early, it could cause harm.

Previous guidelines called for three-hour and six-hour windows of care for sepsis that seemed “sufficient to prevent life-threatening complications.” The Surviving Sepsis Campaign shrinks that window to a single hour, with a specific set of treatments that must be delivered. The intent is to improve survival rates and treatment outcomes. In reality, overburdened ERs are challenged to follow the one-hour protocol. Risk for both misdiagnosis and overtreatment are increased under this rapid intervention scenario.

Misdiagnosing sepsis or other serious illnesses can result in permanent disability or death. If you suspect that you or a loved one is a victim of misdiagnosis at a Philadelphia hospital or doctor’s office, you may want to consult with a Philadelphia attorney experienced in handling misdiagnosis cases. Contact us anytime to schedule a consultation.