Remember the tragic story of Betty Wattenbarger? An innocent, bubbly 7-year old child from Texas with her whole life ahead of her, tragically cut short by a midlevel nurse practitioner in an urgent care who somehow failed to realize she had sepsis, pneumonia, and pulmonary edema? A nurse practitioner who said her lungs were clear, when they were filling up with fluid? A nurse practitioner who didn't even bother to order an X-ray? This, my friends, is what passes for "advanced practice nursing" these days.
Yesterday night, KXAN-TV out of Austin, Texas ran this excellent piece (video version linked at the top) about Betty's Law, or Texas House Bill 2596 which would "would require healthcare workers providing direct patient care and practicing in freestanding ERs and urgent care clinics to wear a photo identification badge" including full first and last name, department, and license/credentials, backed up by financial penalties for noncompliance. According to Betty's parents, they thought Betty would be seen by a doctor, and that had they known the provider was a nurse practitioner instead, they would have taken Betty somewhere else: “We would have known that she was an advanced practicing nurse and said, ‘You know what, she probably doesn’t have the skills to see Betty based on … the way she looked that day." Apparently, the nurse practitioner at the urgent care not only did not introduce themselves as such, but wasn't wearing a badge at all. How much more deceptive and unprofessional can you get?
It's good that this story is getting some mainstream media attention, at a time when the nurse practitioner lobby in Texas is trying to push for full practice authority in the state. Let this serve as a wake-up call to all the midlevels out there who hold the misguided belief that the quality of the care they provide is somehow equal to or better than that of physicians. The general public is starting to wake up and realize that nothing could be farther from the truth, and we applaud Betty's parents for turning this unthinkable tragedy into a constructive movement that will hopefully ensure that no other child has to suffer the same fate and die a preventable death from things that a board-certified emergency medicine physician could diagnose with their eyes closed.