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

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.

Ironically and sickeningly, yesterday my dead mother and I just had something similar done to us by a suburban Philadelphia hospital, Abington Memorial, as below:

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?


I could almost not believe this story, thinking maybe it was exaggerated - until just a few days later I EXPERIENCED THE SAME ISSUE MYSELF, PERSONALLY.

As substitute plaintiff in the death of my mother in 2011 due to a 2010 medication reconciliation failure at Abington Memorial Hospital, as mentioned on this blog and in the press (e.g., Bloomberg News, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-25/digital-health-records-risks-emerge-as-deaths-blamed-on-systems.html and Kaiser Health News, http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/stories/2013/february/18/scot-silverstein-health-information-technology.aspx), the hospital responded (finally) to the points raised in the Complaint filed in October 2011, after exhausting many procedural delay tactics.

The are attempting to blame my mother, who I took to the ED while she was in process of nearly having a stroke, and me as well for her injuries.

From their Sept. 9, 2013 filing:

... 41. The injuries allegedly sustained by [substitute] Plaintiffs decedent [my dead mother - ed.] were caused in whole or in part or the same may have been contributed to by the actions of the Plaintiffs decedent [my dead mother - ed.], and accordingly, any claim for damages is barred or the damages recoverable herein must be reduced in accordance with the provisions of the Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Act, as may be applied to facts disclosed in discovery.

They're apparently claiming (quite falsely, as I was there) that my mother, brought to the ED by me with a headache and suffering cerebral ischemia, never advised the doctors and nurses about her heart medication Sotalol (which was in their ED and floor EHR's from prior visits - just as in the aneurysm case above) that they summarily terminated, leading to disaster, so that her injuries and death are her own fault

Of course, my mother is dead, so only I can speak for her.

My mother would personally respond to Abington Memorial Hospital's charges blaming her for her injuries under their care and subsequent death, but she is not available to do so, at least in this world.  Rest in Peace, Mom, I have your six.

They also attempt to blame me for my mother's harm and death, a layperson (I have not practiced medicine in over 21 years):

54. Upon information and belief, Scot Silverstein’s actions and/or omissions may have been the cause or one of the causes of the harm suffered by the Decedent and/or her Estate.
55. Upon information and belief Scot Silverstein may be contributorily or comparatively negligent for any harm to the decedent and/or her Estate.

They also falsely claim I never informed medical staff about my mother's heart medication, nothwithstanding their own medication reconciliation (verification) policy calls for a best-effort complete re-verification of medications from all available sources at every transition of care, such as when she went from ED to ICU, and then ICU to floor, when I was not present.  Such resources would include, among others:  1) me, via telephone (not used);  2) the patient (apparently this resource was not used); 3) past EHR visit med lists showing the heart medication (also, apparently not used). 

As the Abington Hospital filing was signed and verified by their VP "Patient Advocate" / Director of Risk Management Regina Sturgis, considering these cases, I must ask the question if the practice of "blaming the harmed or dead patient" for their harm is a risk management strategy taught in the seminars these folks attend.

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

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