Even good hospitals and doctors commit malpractice. Medicine is a service just like all the other services we receive and pay for in our lives. We tend not to look at it that way because doctors are professionals and we put aside our common sense and gut feelings to defer to their expertise and education. But as consumers we need to be more involved. How many of us go for routine tests, be it blood work, Pap smears, mammograms, bone density tests, or MRI’s and never call to get the results, let alone receive a copy of the written report?
On April 1, 2012, twelve year old Rory Staunton died from a cut he got in gym class after developing severe septic shock from an infection. Although his parents took him to a pediatrician and then to the NYU Langone Medical Center ER with symptoms of high fever, vomiting and leg pain, these maladies were treated as a stomach virus and Rory was sent home after receiving IV fluids.
At the hospital, Rory’s vital signs had been taken regularly and blood tests had been performed. Unfortunately, a change in vital signs and abnormal blood results, showing a spike in Rory’s white blood cell count, were never communicated to the parents and were not viewed as a harbinger of the deadly infection by hospital personnel. The next day, Rory died.
Doctors’ offices and hospitals are staffed by lay people, human beings who make mistakes, who miss a positive finding in a report and fail to pass it on to the doctor, so that the patient is never alerted to the result which requires further medical action. Rory’s parents did everything possible to get their son the best care but were the victims of human error. This is a cautionary tale that we can all learn from. We need to be more proactive, more aggressive in monitoring information and the results of testing in our healthcare and that of our loved ones.