Hospital infections remain one of the dark secrets of American hospitals. Rather than becoming rarer, hospital infections seem to be more common. The bacteria Clostridium difficile, also called C. diff., has added to this developing danger in the last several years. USA Today reported that about 350,000 C. diff infections resulted in about 30,000 deaths nationwide in 2010. C diff is acquired almost exclusively in a hospital or long-term care setting. The infection causes diarrhea that can result in death if not promptly treated. Treatment consists of readily available antibiotics and fluids. Surgery is an option in later stages.
We have investigated a number of C. diff cases, resulting in one confidential settlement in an Ohio case. Given current trends, we expect to see more medical malpractice claims arising out of a delay in diagnosis or delay in treatment of this disease.
Typically, C diff presents in an elderly or immunocompromised patient who has recently undergone treatment with certain medications and has been exposed to the bacteria in a hospital or nursing home setting. Once such at-risk patients develop severe diarrhea, antibiotics should be started.
A medical negligence claim may arise out of delayed diagnosis of C. diff. We expect to see more claims arise for a couple of reasons. First, hospitals’ infection control practices have lagged, thereby permitting this bacteria to flourish in the institutional setting. Second, the rate of infection increased by about 250,000 infections per year between 1993 and 2010. Physicians are notoriously slow to adjust their practices to such developing trends. Third, testing protocols for C. diff are absurdly lackadaisical. Test results are not routinely ordered on an emergent basis, so results may be delayed while the disease worsens. Careful, up-to-date physicians will treat symptomatic, at-risk patients empirically while test results are pending to optimize outcomes. However, many physicians still delay treatment thereby putting their patients at unnecessary risk.