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Legal Aspects of Compartment Syndrome

December 11, 2020

Litigation

Orthopedic surgery is one of the most commonly sued medical specialties. Misdiagnosed compartment syndrome and delayed compartment syndrome are some of the highest medical malpractice claims, and result in some of the highest indemnity payments in orthopedic litigation. A timely diagnosis is critical.

Abstract

As a true orthopedic emergency, acute compartment syndrome carries significant risks when the diagnosis is missed or delayed. There can be severe consequences following a missed diagnosis for both the patient and the treating orthopedic team. Orthopedic surgery is one of the top five specialties facing malpractice claims each year and the overall payments involving compartment syndrome cases are some of the highest medical malpractice claims.

Brief Case Description

As the number of malpractices claims continue to rise every year, it has created cyclic crises within the medical field around the globe. The large number of malpractice claims has also altered the way that physicians are treating different medical cases. Multiple studies have allowed access to the number of malpractice claims filed for acute compartment syndrome. By evaluating acute compartment syndrome in different studies, orthopedic surgeons were the most common defendants (40.1%) in all claims, followed closely by nonsurgical providers (38.1%). Having a greater understanding of the defendants allowed for a better understanding on the importance of a timely diagnosis of compartment syndrome and the effect it has on the medical field, patients, and the surgeons.

Intervention and Outcome Summary

These malpractice claims have allowed us to find greater detail around the details of compartment syndrome. Time to diagnosis and treatment along with the sequela of missed compartment syndrome were also examined. 68% of patients underwent fasciotomies following the diagnosis of the symptoms, and 32% underwent a delayed fasciotomy. The 32% of the patients who underwent a delayed fasciotomy have a high probability of lifelong muscle and nerve damage. In result, 77% of patients reported permanent physical disability because of a missed diagnosis.

Original Publication:

Compartment Syndrome. A Guide to Diagnosis and Management

Authors:

Milton T. M. Little, Carol A. Lin, Mark S. Vrahas

 
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