Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

NYFD EMS Loses $172 Million Suit

 

What does a $172 million loss mean?

1. Something very bad happened.

2. The jury probably thought that the defense sucked.

3. The amount paid will probably be much lower.

4. We continue to face the opposite of intermittent reinforcement – intermittent negative reinforcement – and we continue to respond unwisely.[1]

5. This will be the excuse for a lot of bad management decisions.

What happened?
 

Image credit.
 

 

A girl who suffered brain damage while waiting for an ambulance won a $172 million judgment against New York City on Wednesday when a Bronx jury determined that Fire Department paramedics could be held liable for giving her mother bad advice.[2]

 

Bad advice?

Wait for the paramedics during a cardiac arrest, rather than transport to the hospital. The medics took 20 minutes to arrive. The child has brain damage.

Was the advice bad?

This took place in 1998, when transport was considered to be important by a lot of people, because the hospital can do so much more of the things that improve outcomes than EMS can, except that the only two treatments that we know improve outcomes are continuous chest compressions and defibrillation. We knew that back then. The main thing we have learned since then is that interruptions of compressions, such as for transport, worsen outcomes.
 

Tiffany’s mother, Samantha Applewhite, called 911, and the city sent two Fire Department medics in a basic ambulance, without the advanced life support equipment she needed, the documents said. One medic began cardiopulmonary resuscitation while the other called for an ambulance with the proper equipment. The city paramedics also failed to bring oxygen or a defibrillator, evidence at trial showed.[2]

 

ALS (Advanced Life Support) equipment has never been shown to improve outcomes, unless the BLS (Basic Life Support) ambulances did not carry defibrillators (AEDs – Automated External Defibrillators). This states that they did not bring their defibrillator, which suggests that they carried and AED, but left it in the ambulance with the oxygen.

Should they have brought the AED to the scene? What did dispatch tell them was going on? NYFD EMS (New York Fire Department EMS) probably had a policy describing what equipment is required for certain calls. Cardiac arrest should require an AED (and oxygen and especially suction [because everyone seems to forget suction]), but was this dispatched as a cardiac arrest? The article does not tell us.

Suppose they do transport. One person is doing compressions, while the other is driving, or did they have more personnel on scene? We do not know.

Was the rhythm shockable? We don’t know. If they had brought the AED, it should have recorded the rhythm and would be able to answer that question, but according to the article, they did not.
 

Ms. Applewhite begged the city paramedics to take her daughter to Montefiore Hospital, a few minutes away, but they advised her to wait for the private ambulance with advanced life support equipment to arrive, the evidence showed.[1]

 

Does it really matter how far away the hospital is?

No.

What about immunity from liability?
 

A trial court at first dismissed the lawsuit, ruling the Applewhites had failed to prove the city had assumed a special affirmative duty to take care of the girl by responding to the call.

But the appellate division disagreed, saying the mother “justifiably relied” on the emergency responders, “who had taken control of the emergency situation and who elected to await” the private ambulance.[2]

 

Maybe we should be a lot better at sharing information and decisions with patients.

Maybe our protocols should be a lot better at encouraging us to share information and decisions with patients.

Did the crew do a bad job? Did they coerce decisions from the mother?

I don’t know.

A bad outcome is not proof of bad patient care.

How much do law suits improve our care?

Do law suits lead to improved patient care?

Do law suits lead to worse patient care?

Maybe a bit of both. Maybe a lot more harm than benefit? The evidence on law suits is that they are unpredictable

Footnotes:

[1] Intermittent reinforcement
Wikipedia
Article

[2] Jury Awards $172 Million in Verdict Against New York City
By James C. McKinley Jr.
May 29, 2014
NY Times
Article

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Comments

  1. What does this mean?

    Absolutely nothing. The system will continue to work poorly at best, not just at FDNY, but elsewhere throughout the country. Nothing will change, no science will actually be applied, straw men will be set up, and medics will be crucified for doing the right thing by their incompetent medical directors and/or managers.

    That’s what this means.

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