As of this writing you would have to be living under a rock to not be aware of the first domestic case of the Ebola virus in Dallas, Texas. While this story is frightening on a number of levels, one of the most concerning snippets from our perspective as attorneys has been this: reports suggest that the infected individual, upon questioning from a staff member, advised an intake nurse that he had just traveled from Liberia (a country in the midst of the ebola outbreak). This information, however, was not conveyed to the physicians performing the clinical examination of the patient. As a result, given this lack of relevant information, the clinicians determined that the infected individual was merely exhibiting flu like symptoms, and sent him home—while he was contagious.
Failure to Communicate Can Create Dangerous Health Conditions
It is, as the Texas governor suggested, “all hands on deck” in Texas in response to this situation, and certainly we can only hope that any outbreak threat is rapidly contained. This incident, however, brings to light (on a very large and serious scale) a problem that we see all too frequently: the failure to communicate amongst medical staff.
At least once a week we are contacted by an individual whose mother/father/brother/sister was recently admitted to a hospital or nursing home and was injured due to a communication breakdown. An example of this is an adult son brings his elderly mother to a nursing home, and on intake tells the staff that she has been falling quite a bit and has memory problems. The staff should (and has the ability to) categorize the woman as a “risk to fall,” and implement fall precautions including bed rails, an alarm and, if necessary, a monitor. Often, however, the intake nurse or physician ignores this key piece of information and no fall precautions are put in place. Two days later the woman gets out of bed, falls, breaks her hip, and requires surgery. Only her health is already somewhat weakened by her age, and now the surgery presents a great risk.
The important thing here—and we hope this will be discussed in light of the Dallas case—is that hospital and nursing home staff must identify potential risks and clearly convey them to clinical staff. More importantly, however, is that the patient or family member must serve as his or her own advocate, in order to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to ensure the patient's safety.
If you or a family member have questions about hospital or nursing home care give us a call. We're happy to help.
Scott Peterson by Scott Peterson | | Connect with me:
Representing plaintiffs in employment and serious injury matters.