Could AI help prevent hyponatremia sodium complications after surgery?

The world is abuzz with the advent of ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence (AI) platforms. That’s why I wasn’t surprised by the Wall Street Journal’s reporting that hospitals are unleashing AI to tackle medical errors.

Some hospitals are using AI to help prevent medication mishaps, reduce patient falls, avoid surgical complications, and prevent dangerous infections.

Since HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) became law, hospitals have rapidly converted their old system of handwritten medical records into electronic systems. This means that clinical information can be easily made available for AI review.

As a former hospital administrator, I’m well aware that it’s a duty of hospital leaders to review errors and near-misses, with the goal of promoting patient safety. As a medical malpractice attorney, though, I know that these quality improvement efforts often miss the mark.

For example, I handled a medical malpractice lawsuit against a Texas hospital involving a brain injury that a teenage girl developed as result of poor hospital care. Let’s call her Esther. Esther’s parents took her to a children’s hospital because she had been having a headache, nausea, and vomiting for a few days. The physicians determined that a recent sinus infection had spread to her brain. As scary as that sounds, though, the neurosurgeon was able to remedy the problem quickly with a craniotomy surgery, which basically involved drilling a hole in the skull to drain the infected fluid.

After the surgery, Esther was doing great. She was sitting up, pain-free, eating, drinking, and talking. Her surgical team told her that she would be on intravenous (IV) antibiotics for a period of weeks and then things would be back to normal.

But then Esther’s serum sodium levels started decreasing. She developed hyonatremia, which is an abnormally low serum sodium level. This is a known complication of surgery, caused by the syndrome of inappropriate and a diuretic hormone secretion (SIADH). It can be carefully corrected with an inexpensive IV of hypertonic saline, close monitoring, and repeat serum sodium tests.

The nursing staff didn’t notify any physician of the critically-low serum sodium level. The condition caused brain swelling until the point that Esther’s brain herniated. She almost died. She was left in a near vegetative state.

As I think about Esther’s case, I bet AI would’ve prevented the error by flagging the critical lab value, making appropriate physician notifications, and even issuing treatment recommendations.

Strangely, despite spending millions of dollars to settle the medical malpractice case and pay for Esther’s future medical care, the hospital leadership didn’t make the necessary changes to improve patient safety.

I know this for a fact because within a year of the settlement, the same unit at the same hospital almost caused a brain injury in another patient with post-operative sodium mismanagement. Fortunately, though, I had spoken with the patient’s father and told him about Esther’s case. He was able to intervene with the health care team in the nick of time and it saved his son’s life.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor hospital or medical care in Texas, then contact a top-rated, experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney for free strategy session about your potential case.

The world is buzzing with the advent of ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence (AI) platforms. That's why it was not surprising when The Wall Street Journal reported that hospitals are using AI to tackle medical errors.

According to The Wall Street Journal, hospitals are employing AI to prevent medication mishaps, reduce patient falls, avoid surgical complications, and prevent dangerous infections. Since the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) became law, hospitals have quickly converted their old system of handwritten medical records into electronic systems. This allows for clinical information to be easily accessible for AI review.

As a former hospital administrator, I know that it is the responsibility of hospital leaders to review errors and near-misses to promote patient safety. However, as a medical malpractice attorney, I understand that these quality improvement efforts often fall short.

For instance, I handled a medical malpractice lawsuit against a Texas hospital that involved a brain injury that a teenage girl, whom we'll call Esther, developed as a result of poor hospital care. Esther's parents brought her to a children's hospital because she had been experiencing a headache, nausea, and vomiting for a few days. The physicians found that a recent sinus infection had spread to her brain. Despite the alarming diagnosis, the neurosurgeon quickly addressed the issue with a craniotomy surgery that involved drilling a hole in the skull to drain the infected fluid.

After the surgery, Esther was doing well. She was sitting up, pain-free, eating, drinking, and speaking. Her surgical team informed her that she would be on intravenous (IV) antibiotics for several weeks and then things would return to normal.

However, Esther's serum sodium levels began to decrease. This is a known surgery complication caused by the syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion (SIADH). It can be carefully corrected with an inexpensive IV of hypertonic saline, close monitoring, and repeat serum sodium tests.

The nursing staff failed to inform any physician of Esther's critically low serum sodium level, and as a result, her condition caused brain swelling until her brain herniated. She nearly died and was left in a near-vegetative state.

When I think about Esther's case, I believe AI could have prevented the error by flagging the critical lab value, notifying the appropriate physician, and even offering treatment recommendations.

Oddly, even though the hospital leadership spent millions of dollars to settle the medical malpractice case and pay for Esther's future medical care, they did not make the necessary changes to enhance patient safety. I know this for a fact because within a year of the settlement, the same unit at the same hospital almost caused another patient to suffer a brain injury due to post-operative sodium mismanagement. Luckily, I had spoken with the patient's father and informed him about Esther's case. He was able to intervene with the healthcare team just in time, and it saved his son's life.

If you have been seriously injured due to poor hospital or medical care in Texas, contact a top-rated, experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney for a free strategy session about your potential case.

Article by

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.