■ Physician-patient:

Communicating effectively with patients to optimize their care

Matters of judgment

Published: August 2021

Type of activity: Quick activity

Activity summary

The following scenario illustrates a situation in which a patient experienced a complication during care. The facilitation questions are focused on helping learners understand that adverse outcomes may be a consequence of a harmful incident (accident in Québec) an inherent risk of a medical procedure, or the underlying medical condition/disease.


A 61-year-old female artist falls and sustains an injury to her right wrist (dominant hand). The clinical exam is consistent with a Colles fracture that is confirmed on X-ray. A closed reduction and immobilization is performed using procedural sedation. Post-reduction X-rays, taken through a properly applied cast, show a near anatomical reduction.

The patient is discharged with instructions to follow up with an orthopaedic surgeon in 1 week. Six weeks later the cast is removed and X-rays confirm appropriate bone alignment and callus formation at the fracture site.

Despite this evidence of healing, the patient notes severe burning pain in the forearm, hyperalgesia, and intermittent changes in skin colour. A diagnosis of chronic regional pain syndrome is made, and the patient is referred to a chronic pain specialist. The condition proves unresponsive to a variety of medications and nerve blocks. The patient is unable to resume her artistic endeavours.

Is this a harmful incident (accident in Québec)? Why?

Is what happened related to the medical condition, an inherent risk of the reduction and casting treatment, a system failure, or an issue of provider performance? Discuss.

Additional resources

CanMEDS: Medical Expert, Professional

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this learning material is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific professional medical or legal advice, nor to constitute a "standard of care" for Canadian healthcare professionals. The use of CMPA learning resources is subject to the foregoing as well as the CMPA's Terms of Use.