All states, including Maryland, subscribe to the legal concept that a physician must fully inform the patient of a proposed course of treatment. This generally includes providing a description of the treatment, the risks, alternative treatment and alternative medical diagnoses. Physician negligence constituting medical malpractice can be found due to the physician not giving the reasonably indicated information per the existing circumstances.
In one recent case, the issue of full information became decisive. A jury awarded $25.3 million to a woman who was released from a hospital while apparently suffering from a strep infection and impending septic shock. She lost all four of her limbs when the life-threatening massive infection was discovered. In an unusual verdict, the jury did not find the doctor and his assistant negligent in their care of the patient.
Instead, the jury found that they failed to fully inform the patient of alternative diagnoses and optional treatment. In Wisconsin, where the verdict was entered, a new law strictly reduced the amount of information that a doctor must provide. However, the plaintiff filed her lawsuit based on the prior statute requiring a broader duty. Thus, the jury determined that the defendants were negligent in not telling the woman that she could have been suffering from a strep infection that could lead to sepsis.
To some observers, this may seem to be a strained outcome because it overlooks that the medical providers simply failed to diagnose the strep infection and the impending sepsis. After all, the patient was in the hospital and at their disposal for nine hours of examinations. During that time, she was complaining of severe abdominal pain, rapid heartbeat, and fever.
Part of the answer may be that jurors may feel more at ease saying that the doctors did not fully inform the patient, as opposed to making the more critical determination of physician negligence in missing the diagnosis, especially given the horrible outcome for the patient. In any event, a large part of the verdict will go toward providing her with nursing care for the remainder of her life. The principles of physician negligence raised in this case apply in Maryland as well as in other jurisdictions.