No Existing Relationship Needed To Sue a Doctor

Be careful out there folks. Here is what just happened in Minnesota. You need to see this:

The Warren v. Dinter case arises out of the care provided to a woman (Susan Warren), who complained of abdominal pain, fever, chills, and other symptoms to a nurse practitioner at Essentia Health Clinic in Hibbing. After testing showed that Warren had an elevated white blood cell count, the nurse practitioner suspected infection and sought hospitalization for her at Fairview Range Medical Center. The nurse practitioner’s call was randomly assigned to a hospitalist at Fairview to discuss admission. 

After a brief conversation, during which the physician was unable to view the patient’s medical record, the physician and the nurse practitioner discussed hospitalization and whether the elevated white-cell count and blood sugar could be the result of diabetes. The physician did not recommend hospitalization during the conversation and the nurse practitioner did not seek hospitalization for the patient following the conversation. The patient subsequently died from sepsis caused by an untreated staph infection. Warren’s family sued both the nurse practitioner and the physician for medical malpractice. 

There is a lot of unpack here. I do not have all the details other than what is in this article. Therefore, I cannot debate whether the doctor really missed something obvious. The Minnesota Medical Association said this:

The Court’s decision to rely on a broader legal theory of “foreseeability” represents a troubling change that puts Minnesota in the minority of states that do not require the existence of a physician-patient relationship for a malpractice action. This change may expose physicians and other health professionals to malpractice risk in a variety of actions that were previously protected, including unbilled consultations

From the little information I have, this just shows you can be sued for anything. Examples include:

  • If you have a gaggle of NPs/PAs under you and you are not reading and correcting everything. Makes you think whether you should continue this, huh?
  • If you do a curbside consult
  • If you are a specialist and a doctor calls you for some thoughts about a case
  • If a patient calls you and you possibly miss ANYTHING and there is a bad outcome

Being a doctor is not easy. Even if we do the best we can there is always a chance for a mistake. Negligence and bad outcomes are not the same, however.

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