Monday, December 18, 2017

OCMA Blog

Lyme Disease: Delayed Diagnosis Is Greatest Risk for Healthcare Providers

Risk Tip by The Doctors Company

Lyme disease, a bacterial tickborne disease, is one of the fastest-growing infectious diseases in the U.S. Summer is peak season, and most people are bitten by blacklegged ticks, which are small and difficult to see. Lyme disease progresses in phases: early localized disease with skin rash and flu-like symptoms, followed by disseminated disease with heart and nervous system involvement (palsy and meningitis), then late disease with severe fatigue, neurocognitive symptoms, and severe joint and muscle pain leading to physical disability. The challenge is diagnosing this disease in the early phases, when treatment is typically curative.

A claims review found that the main liability risk for Lyme disease is system issues that result in delayed diagnosis. The chief system issue is communication failure in reporting test results to the healthcare provider. In one case, the patient had ongoing headaches, nausea, and vomiting. Although the patient did not recall a recent tick bite, the patient lived in an area with a high incidence of Lyme disease. The provider ordered a Lyme screen, which was positive. A confirmatory test was also positive. The lab faxed the report to the provider and contacted the health department. However, the provider claimed he had not received test results.

The flu-like symptoms of early Lyme disease mimic a viral syndrome, so providers need to consider Lyme disease in their differential diagnosis whenever they see patients with this presentation. 

Tips to help make an early diagnosis include:

  • Because most people do not recall a tick bite, ask about recent travel or outdoor activities.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2011 96 percent of cases came from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
  • In the early phases, 70 to 80 percent of patients will get a red, spreading rash that can appear anywhere on the body.
  • The classic rash has a bulls-eye appearance with a red outer ring surrounding a clear area, but the rash may not have this appearance.
  • Fatigue, chills, fever, swollen lymph nodes, headache, muscle, and joint aches are common early symptoms.
  • Early phase blood tests are typically negative because antibodies have not yet developed. Therefore, a negative test does not rule out Lyme disease.
  • Those patients who develop a rash should be treated with antibiotics.
  • Remain current on CDC guidelines regarding diagnosis and treatment.
  • Oral antibiotics commonly used with adults include doxycycline, amoxicillin, and cefuroxime axetil. For children younger than 8 years old, amoxicillin is recommended.
  • Have a system in place for following up on lab test results.
  • Advise patients to avoid tick-infested areas, use insecticides containing DEET, and conduct daily exams for ticks on themselves, their children, and their pets.
  • If they find a tick, advise patients to gently remove it with tweezers and save it for identification.
Contributed by The Doctors Company. For more patient safety articles and practice tips, visit www.thedoctors.com/patientsafety

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