Hypoglycemia: Don’y Rely on the Doctor’s Prognosis – Tell Him What Needs to be Done to Save Your Life

Here’s yet another episode of doctors who are clueless about treating complications arising from diabetes. If only the doctors at the hospital attending on him had more knowledge of treating hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), the 46-year-old man would have been alive today.

The diabetic, a self-employed electrical technician, identified only as Mr H, weighed 150kg and was taken by ambulance to the North West Regional Hospital in Burnie, Tasmania, Australia with a very low blood sugar level of just 27 mg/dl (a normal blood sugar level is about 90 mg/dl).

Three sets of clinical observations were taken, at 5.52pm, 6.35pm and 6.40pm, including his blood pressure, which was low. He was provided with sandwiches to eat, which he tolerated, and was observed for an hour and remained well.

After being discharged at 7pm, Mr H went home. About 12.34am, Mrs H awoke but could not rouse her husband. She called an ambulance but, by the time they arrived, Mr H was in cardiac arrest.

An investigation by Coroner Rod Chandler found the 46-year-old was discharged at 7pm and died at home about 1.45am the next day. “Mr H was considered to have suffered a hypoglycemic episode, most likely related to poor oral intake combined with his oral anti-diabetic medication,” the post-mortem report said. In these circumstances the decision to permit Mr H to go home about 7pm on 10 January, 2009, was a regrettable misjudgment,” the coroner said.

“Had he remained in hospital for a longer period and been subject to close monitoring and to more intensive investigations, then it is likely in my view that the seriousness of his condition would have become evident and life-saving treatment put in place. These matters give rise to the question whether the decision to permit Mr H to go home without further monitoring and/or investigation was, in all the circumstances, a reasonable one.”

After carrying out an autopsy, pathologist Terry Brain recommended the case be reviewed by an experienced diabetic physician, “particularly [whether] the decision to allow him to go home played a significant role in his death and what could have been done to prevent this outcome”.

Royal Hobart Hospital Diabetes and Endocrine Services clinical director Tim Greenaway said severe hypoglycemia was a “clinical red flag” and should have attracted careful assessment. “Mr H’s falling blood sugar at the time he was allowed to leave hospital should have resulted in action by the emergency department staff,” he said, adding there were measures that could have been implemented by the medical staff. “Such investigation and treatment is standard practice,” he said.

Indeed, such investigation and treatment is standard practice around the world. Even an intern should know them. But the doctors on duty at the emergency room were ignorant of these procedures. “Regrettable misjudgment” is a terrible understatement, to say the least.

It was reported that the health authorities have implemented new procedures (sic) after Mr H’s death. But that’s no relief for his family.

My advice to all diabetics: If you suffer a hypo episode, instruct your family members to tell the doctors what to do. Also carry a note detailing the measures to be taken ‒ in case you have passed out ‒ in your wallet along with your card that identifies you as a diabetic. Unlike Mr H, you may not be another victim of an ill-trained doctor’s regrettable misjudgment.

Based on a news report in themercury.com.au

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  • Natalie Sera  On March 1, 2011 at 9:19 am

    The article says Mr. H was Type 2 on oral meds. Any doctor worth his salt knows that hypos from oral meds can be very long-lasting — just because the BG initially comes up doesn’t mean it will stay up because the medicine is still working in the body, possibly for up to 72 hours. Heck, I’M not a doctor, but I still know that! This was definitely malpractice; I don’t know if his wife will have the courage to pursue it in her grief, but I hope she does.


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