Did A Family Member Die As A Result Of A Premature Hospital Discharge?

One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a hospital patient is being discharged too soon. Patients who are prematurely discharged can suffer from tremendous complications and die very easily, leaving their devastated families behind. This is what you should know about these kinds of situations.

Who is likely to be victimized this way?

While anybody can fall victim to inadequate medical care, some situations are more likely than others to lead to a premature discharge:

  • a hospital is short-staffed or overcrowded and short on rooms
  • a patient without insurance is told that their condition doesn't require emergency treatment, and is therefore not eligible for services
  • an infant is released too soon after birth 
  • a new mother is released too soon after delivering her infant
  • a patient is released too soon after surgery and suffers complications as a result of anesthesia
  • a patient is treated with a high-powered narcotic or another medication that carries a significant risk of an allergic reaction and is released before an appropriate period of observation

In addition, patients with psychiatric problems may be some of the most vulnerable to early discharge. Because of their mental issues, physicians and nurses may dismiss their physical complaints without doing a thorough evaluation. They may also want to unload a potentially expensive patient or problematic patient, who may not have adequate insurance. For example, one California hospital was fined twice in two years for "dumping" its mentally ill patients.

How can you tell if someone was discharged too soon?

Every situation is different and an attorney can best evaluate the individual circumstances of a case. However, there are some strong indicators you can look for that a patient's death was the result of an early discharge:

  • the patient was discharged after a cursory examination by a resident physician without the attending physician's supervision 
  • the patient's complaints were dismissed as essentially trivial, without any testing that could confirm the diagnosis
  • a patient was discharged before his or her lab results were back
  • the patient was put into a cab or sent to secondary care facility without confirmation that they would be accepted
  • the patient was readmitted within a few hours under emergency conditions

Sometimes a patient will try desperately to alert medical professionals to their condition and their concerns are abruptly dismissed for no rational reason. In one case, a Florida woman actually refused to leave the hospital after being discharged. She complained of breathing problems—instead of being evaluated for her respiratory distress, she was subjected to arrest for trespassing and disorderly conduct. She died shortly afterward due to a blood clot.

What can family members do if the patient dies?

When a close family member dies as a result of an early discharge, it may be possible to pursue a wrongful death claim. Exactly who is entitled to bring a wrongful death claim depends on the laws of your particular state, but you could be eligible to recover for any medical bills, burial costs, and future lost wages. You may also be able to claim compensation for the loss of your family member's love and companionship.

For more information, contact a wrongful death attorney in your area.