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Thomas Eric Duncan 3

(Pub­lished in The Huff­in­g­ton Post, Octo­ber 8, 2014)

Thomas Eric Dun­can, the patient who was sent home by a Texas hos­pi­tal even while pre­sent­ing with the ear­ly stages of the Ebo­la virus, has died.

Each day, fam­i­lies around the world face the tragedy of med­ical errors and hos­pi­tal mis­takes that end in death or extreme injury to the patient. Most often, there is no media inter­est and noth­ing hap­pens as a result, despite the relent­less search by fam­i­lies for answers and account­abil­i­ty. But in the case of Mr. Dun­can and the glob­al fear of Ebo­la, the world can now see the con­se­quences of med­ical errors and the pre­dictable pat­tern of excus­es that fol­lows: “we are only human;” “every­one makes mis­takes;” “the nurse was tired;” “the doc­tor was busy;” “our soft­ware failed.” Fam­i­lies often learn that the ini­tial rea­son giv­en for the error was not cor­rect. It is not unusu­al for fam­i­lies nev­er to be giv­en the real rea­son, since cover-up is not uncom­mon when it comes to how hos­pi­tals han­dle errors.

Texas Health Pres­by­ter­ian Hos­pi­tal, where Mr. Dun­can sought emer­gency help, ini­tial­ly iden­ti­fied a soft­ware break­down as the rea­son why the hos­pi­tal missed a vital red flag and sent the patient home. Now it claims this was not the case, but won’t say what the cause was. The result­ing days lost in treat­ing Mr. Dun­can may well be shown to be deter­mi­na­tive in his demise.

It has long been known that med­ical errors in the hos­pi­tal set­ting account for the third lead­ing cause of death in the Unit­ed States and Cana­da. Very often those deaths are pre­ventable. Yet lit­tle progress has been made in end­ing this epi­dem­ic of med­ical errors. It should not take the prospect of an Ebo­la pan­ic and the trag­ic death of Mr. Dun­can before the world wakes up and demands fun­da­men­tal change on the part of health­care lead­ers and pub­lic pol­i­cy mak­ers.

 But the sad fact is that it prob­a­bly will.

(Pub­lished in the Huff­in­g­ton Post May 8, 2015)   Being hos­pi­tal­ized today presents a seri­ous dilem­ma to both patients and fam­i­lies. You need hos­pi­tal care because of some con­di­tion or dis­ease. But you may also need pro­tec­tion from the hos­pi­tal and the harm that can occur. One night sev­er­al years ago, when my moth­er was […]

An inves­ti­ga­tion by Canada’s largest reg­u­la­tor of phar­ma­cists found that a hos­pi­tal in south-central Ontario was allow­ing an unreg­u­lat­ed phar­ma­cy assis­tant to work in its phar­ma­cy with­out required super­vi­sion by a licensed phar­ma­cist.  The work includ­ed enter­ing doctor’s pre­scrip­tions into the com­put­er pri­or to being sent to the nurs­ing floor. The inves­ti­ga­tion fol­lowed com­plaints that […]

(Pub­lished in The Huff­in­g­ton Post, Octo­ber 8, 2014) Thomas Eric Dun­can, the patient who was sent home by a Texas hos­pi­tal even while pre­sent­ing with the ear­ly stages of the Ebo­la virus, has died. Each day, fam­i­lies around the world face the tragedy of med­ical errors and hos­pi­tal mis­takes that end in death or extreme […]

A gov­ern­ment agency in Ontario has called for nurs­ing homes in that province to re-evaluate their use of anti-psychotic med­ica­tions like que­ti­ap­ine (mar­ket­ed under the brand name Sero­quel).  Health Qual­i­ty Ontario says that up to 60 per­cent of res­i­dents in some nurs­ing homes are receiv­ing the drug. In the major­i­ty of cas­es, the med­ica­tion is […]

More and more fam­i­lies are giv­ing voice to hos­pi­tal hor­ror sto­ries so that what hap­pened to their loved ones, and mine, does not hap­pen again. Stand­ing up for safer care after a hos­pi­tal has inflict­ed harm is nev­er easy for a fam­i­ly. In many cas­es, the patient does not get to be part of that […]

A recent arti­cle in The Atlantic called “The Hos­pi­tal is No Place for the Elder­ly,” rais­es trou­bling con­cerns about the future of health­care for the elder­ly.  Here is an excerpt: Seniors with five or more chron­ic con­di­tions account for less than a fourth of Medicare’s ben­e­fi­cia­ries but more than two-thirds of its spending—and they are […]

The bur­dens of care­giv­ing can­not con­tin­ue to be borne by the typ­i­cal middle-aged woman who is too worn-out to voice out­rage or too depressed to advo­cate for a fair­er deal, while soci­ety reaps all the sav­ings in health­care costs. When we think about med­ical errors in hos­pi­tals or nurs­ing homes, we often think about the […]

What if an epi­dem­ic wiped out the entire pop­u­la­tion of Dal­las and con­tin­ued on to Cana­da to kill every­one in Kingston, Shaw­ini­gan and Vic­to­ria?   Just the pos­si­bil­i­ty would be enough to cre­ate a North American-wide health­care emer­gency.  Yet med­ical errors in the Unit­ed States will kill, by con­ser­v­a­tive esti­mates, some 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple between 2014 […]

There is a med­ical emer­gency rolling across the land and into its hos­pi­tal rooms. No drug is avail­able to cure it, and it can be as lethal as any super­bug. It is the epi­dem­ic of hos­pi­tal med­ical errors that is lit­er­al­ly killing thou­sands of patients each year and leav­ing oth­ers injured or at unnec­es­sary risk. […]