Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A New And Quite Perverse Hospital Ploy to Defend Medical Malpractice - Blame the Dead Patient?

I did not think hospitals would ever get to the level of perversity, in defense of EHRs and EHR-related malpractice, seen herein.

Just a few days ago I came across the following article on a web search.

It is an astonishing story of a 49 year old man who died in part because an ED physician in a Suffern, NY hospital did not know how to use the EHR that had life saving diagnostic information within, and the hospital attempted to BLAME THE PATIENT for not "explaining his medical history thoroughly enough" to the ED doctor.

You read that correctly.

Family Awarded $3.4 Million After ER Misses Aneurysm
Posted February 17, 2012 in Medical Malpractice by writer Aaron Kase

It’s gospel in health care– if you have chest pains, get to the emergency room, especially if you have a history of heart problems. But an inexperienced ER doctor in New York thought his patient’s complaints weren’t serious, and sent him home with muscle relaxers. The result was deadly.

A Rockland County jury Wednesday awarded $3.4 million to the family of Michael McKenzie, who was discharged from the Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern in 2007 after complaining of chest pains and other symptoms consistent with a serious heart problem. The hospital determined that McKenzie, 49, was not having a heart attack, then ER doctor Michael Kane diagnosed him with a muscle strain and sent him home with muscle relaxers.

Two days later, McKenzie was found dead in his house by his 10-year-old son, killed by an aortic aneurysm.

The hospital should have found the aneurysm, argued Anthony DiPietro, the attorney for McKenzie’s family.”They just blew it,” says DiPietro, who headquarters his practice in New York City. “He had textbook signs of an aortic dissection [bleeding into the wall of the main artery that carries blood from the heart]: Chest pain, back pain, shortness of breath, sudden onset, woke him up from sleep, and he wasn’t doing any activities when it happened.”

Compounding the hospital’s error, McKenzie had a history of heart problems that should have pointed them toward the correct diagnosis. In 2003, he had been diagnosed with a dilated aortic root, or enlarged artery, with is a huge red flag for a future rupture. Good Samaritan knew about the dilated root because they had noted it in his chart during a heart procedure McKenzie had undergone the year before his death.

But the doctor, who had been at the hospital less than a month and was working unsupervised, never knew about McKenzie’s history. Why not? Because he didn’t know how to use the hospital’s electronic medical records system.

That's beyond pathetic, but it gets worse.  Far worse:

“He admitted it as part of his deposition,” DiPietro says. “They equivocated. First they said the system wasn’t working [an apparent attempted mistruth - ed.], but then he said he really didn’t know how to use it yet.” According to a local news report, the doctor was certified in obstetrics and gynecology at the time, and didn’t receive his certificate in emergency medicine until the following year.

The hospital argued that the aneurysm wasn’t present when McKenzie visited their ER–despite the fact that his certificate of death stated it had been present for days. The hospital also claimed that McKenzie was responsible for his own death because he didn’t explain his medical history thoroughly enough– the same history that was documented in the hospital’s own records. 

Let me repeat that for emphasis:

The - hospital - also - claimed - that - McKenzie - was - responsible - for - his - own - death - because - he - didn’t - explain - his - medical - history - thoroughly  - enough– the - same - history - that - was-  documented - in - the - hospital’s - own - records.

A hospital dares blame a likely frightened-out-of-his-wits patient presenting to their ED with chest pain, back pain, shortness of breath, of sudden onset that woke him up from sleep, for his own death?   

That, readers, is the most perverse hospital behavior I have ever encountered since entering medicine in 1977 (actually 1972-3 in summer NSF programs at Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia).

Not to mention, of course, that said patient cannot defend himself, because he's dead and buried...

In fact, in a highly unusual move, the judge in the case allowed doctors to recount conversations they had with McKenzie to the jury, statements usually prohibited under New York’s “Dead Man’s Statute” designed to keep hearsay out of the courtroom. 

It's a very special hearsay indeed when the hear-sayers know the patient is in his grave and cannot respond.

The tilted playing field notwithstanding, the jury nevertheless found the hospital negligent and awarded $3.4 million to McKenzie’s widow, two adult daughters and now 14-year-old son. The money couldn’t come soon enough– the widow, now sole provider for her son, recently lost her job and their home went into foreclosure. “Hopefully this will allow them to keep the house,” DiPietro says.

The ironically-named hospital planned an appeal:

A Good Samaritan spokesperson said the hospital plans to appeal.

I will attempt to find if the dockets are publicly accessible.

So, to recap, an ED doc didn't know how to use an EHR that contained lifesaving diagnostic information misses an aneurysm, the patient dies, and the defense attempts to blame the patient for his own death for (allegedly) not telling the doctor thoroughly enough about his own medical condition, i.e., the frightened, in-severe-pain patient didn't know medicine but should have - doesn't everyone?

Blaming dead patients or their families for harm from medical misadventures is absolutely horrifying.  It shows disrespect for the dead and is depraved, especially coming from a hospital, I think any prospective patient would agree.

-- SS


Anonymous said...

Not to mention the thought blunting anxiety of working in an ER knowing that he did not have access to the care critical infrastructure EHR...Sounds like corporate negligence on the part of the hospital to allow a health care professional to work without adequate training or supervision.

The only way out for desperate negligent corporations/hospitals is to blame the patient.

Anonymous said...

WOW. Just wow on the blaming the patient part.

InformaticsMD said...

Anonymous September 11, 2013 at 3:12:00 PM EDT wrote:

WOW. Just wow on the blaming the patient part.

Let me correct you:

WOW. Just wow on the blaming the DEAD patient part.

-- SS

Anonymous said...

I feel like I am going to blow a gasket! I have heard it all.....wait....probably not.

Gwinette Mc Odonel said...

The more I read about this is issue, the more I get upset about how doctors and medical institutions are behaving lately. I understand they're trying to make a living out of taking care of patients, but they're going too far when they deny their mistakes at the cost of people's lives. People should not hesitate to contact an Arizona medical malpractice attorney or any lawyer in their respective state to claim the compensation and justice that they deserve.

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