Meningitis is the main cause of malpractice suits against pediatricians, especially in the US, with average payouts reaching $400,000. Most are due to a failure to diagnose the condition promptly, particularly in younger children when symptoms can be
So a new report from the University of Helsinki in Finland is like manna from heaven for a beleagured profession. The report concludes that children who had been sent home by a doctor before the illness was diagnosed did not suffer any worse than those whose condition was recognized immediately.
The study compared the outcome of three groups of children aged between three months and 15 years who developed bacterial meningitis. In all, 325 children were monitored between 1984 and 1991 at 18 pediatric hospitals in Finland. In 74 per cent of cases, meningitis was diagnosed at once, 14 per cent had visited a physician the previous day and 11 per cent had seen one between two and four days of the disease being diagnosed.
Despite the delays, there was no difference between the groups in hearing impairment, neurological problems or even mortality, the study discovered.
Mortality rates were around four per cent in each of the three groups. However, other permanent disorders such as seizures, learning disabilities and paralysis were not monitored.
!AJAMA, 14 September 1994.