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      Litigation in Nontraumatic Aortic Diseases – A Tempest in the Malpractice Maelstrom

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      , ,
      Cardiology
      S. Karger AG
      Litigation, Legal, Dissection, Malpractice

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          Abstract

          Objectives: Physicians are vulnerable to highly litigated thoracic aortic diseases. On the basis of a review of litigated cases, we aim to determine legally protective strategies for physicians and methods to improve treatment. Methods: Thirty-three nontraumatic, thoracic aorta-related legal cases were analyzed. Results: Twenty-three patients (69.7%) had dissections (21 ascending, 2 descending), 8 (24.2%) had aneurysms and 2 had miscellaneous other phenomena (1 coarctation and 1 iatrogenic descending aortic rupture). The adverse event was death in 30 (90.9%) patients and paraplegia or stroke in 3 (9.1%). Allegations included: failure/delay in diagnosis (19), delay in surgery (4), error in surgical technique (5), failure to prevent paraplegia (2) and miscellaneous (3). Medical treatment was retrospectively judged suboptimal in 22 cases (66.6%) for reasons consonant with allegations. Conclusions: Aortic disease can be diagnostically elusive, as ‘the great masquerader’. Emergency physicians must maintain a high index of suspicion for aneurysm and dissection. The D-dimer test can effectively rule out aortic dissection. ‘Triple rule-out’ CT scans should be performed liberally. CT scan readers must remember to evaluate the aorta. Operating room administrators must be aware that postponing a scheduled thoracic aortic case may result in interim rupture and consequent litigation. With virulent thoracic aortic diseases, adverse outcome itself does not imply substandard care.

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          Most cited references19

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          The International Registry of Acute Aortic Dissection (IRAD)

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            Diagnosis and management of aortic dissection.

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              What is the appropriate size criterion for resection of thoracic aortic aneurysms?

              Although many articles have described techniques for resection of thoracic aortic aneurysms, limited information on the natural history of this disorder is available to aid in defining criteria for surgical intervention. Data on 230 patients with thoracic aortic aneurysms treated at Yale University School of Medicine from 1985 to 1996 were analyzed. This computerized database included 714 imaging studies (magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, echocardiography). Mean size of the thoracic aorta in these patients at initial presentation was 5.2 cm (range 3.5 to 10 cm). The mean growth rate was 0.12 cm/yr. Overall survivals at 1 and 5 years were 85% and 64%, respectively. Patients having aortic dissection had lower survival (83% 1 year; 46% 5 year) than the cohort without dissection (89% 1 year; 71% 5 year). One hundred thirty-six patients underwent surgery for their thoracic aortic aneurysms. For elective operations, the mortality was 9.0%; for emergency operations, 21.7%. Median size at time of rupture or dissection was 6.0 cm for ascending aneurysms and 7.2 cm for descending aneurysms. The incidence of dissection or rupture increased with aneurysm size. Multivariable regression analysis to isolate risk factors for acute dissection or rupture revealed that size larger than 6.0 cm increased the probability by 32.1 percentage points for ascending aneurysms (p = 0.005). For descending aneurysms, this probability increased by 43.0 percentage points at a size greater than 7.0 cm (p = 0.006). If the median size at the time of dissection or rupture were used as the intervention criterion, half of the patients would suffer a devastating complication before the operation. Accordingly, a criterion lower than the median is appropriate. We recommend 5.5 cm as an acceptable size for elective resection of ascending aortic aneurysms, because resection can be performed with relatively low mortality. For aneurysms of the descending aorta, in which perioperative complications are greater and the median size at the time of complications is larger, we recommend intervention at 6.5 cm.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                CRD
                Cardiology
                10.1159/issn.0008-6312
                Cardiology
                S. Karger AG
                0008-6312
                1421-9751
                2008
                March 2008
                17 September 2007
                : 109
                : 4
                : 263-272
                Affiliations
                Section of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn., USA
                Article
                107790 Cardiology 2008;109:263–272
                10.1159/000107790
                17873491
                d2b38fd9-c4dd-4346-9535-c1ebcaad16ac
                © 2007 S. Karger AG, Basel

                Copyright: All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be translated into other languages, reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, microcopying, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Drug Dosage: The authors and the publisher have exerted every effort to ensure that drug selection and dosage set forth in this text are in accord with current recommendations and practice at the time of publication. However, in view of ongoing research, changes in government regulations, and the constant flow of information relating to drug therapy and drug reactions, the reader is urged to check the package insert for each drug for any changes in indications and dosage and for added warnings and precautions. This is particularly important when the recommended agent is a new and/or infrequently employed drug. Disclaimer: The statements, opinions and data contained in this publication are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of the publishers and the editor(s). The appearance of advertisements or/and product references in the publication is not a warranty, endorsement, or approval of the products or services advertised or of their effectiveness, quality or safety. The publisher and the editor(s) disclaim responsibility for any injury to persons or property resulting from any ideas, methods, instructions or products referred to in the content or advertisements.

                History
                : 28 December 2006
                : 06 January 2007
                Page count
                Figures: 4, Tables: 1, References: 32, Pages: 10
                Categories
                Original Research

                General medicine,Neurology,Cardiovascular Medicine,Internal medicine,Nephrology
                Malpractice,Litigation,Legal,Dissection

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