The risk of a widespread Ebola outbreak in the United States is still extremely
low. However, as the country’s first case demonstrated, medical
errors can increase the risk.
As we have previously reported on this San Diego Injury Blog, medical errors
are now the third leading cause of death in the United States. While mistakes
can occur for any number of reasons, communication breakdowns are one
of the most common causes.
In the case of Thomas Duncan, doctors who first treated him were not aware
that he had recently traveled to West Africa, where the Ebola outbreak
is largely uncontained. They diagnosed him with a mild infection, prescribed
antibiotics, and sent him home.
According to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, an admitting nurse
first collected information from Duncan, including his recent travel history.
The nurse’s notes were then used to create an electronic health
record (HER). While this important information should have been made available
to the doctor who later treated Duncan, the hospital at first claimed
that it was not, although it later changed its story. In any event, the
doctor never inquired about Duncan’s travel history, which likely
would have raised red flags about the risk of Ebola.
As a result, Duncan was not isolated and treated until three days later
when he returned with more serious symptoms. The lapse is treatment increased
the number of people with whom he had contact and may have worsened his
chances for survival. He ultimately died from Ebola, and now nurses who
treated him have also been infected.
San Diego medical malpractice lawyers, we hope that hospitals will learn from what happened in Texas and take
the appropriate steps to make sure that patients who may have Ebola are
identified and treated quickly, with the proper safeguards in place. While
Ebola should be easily contained in this country, our healthcare facilities
must follow proper protocols to deter the spread of the disease.