Posted by Bill Sandweg on 30 January 2019.
There are a number of medical mistakes that involve mistaken identity. There are wrong site surgeries in which the surgeon operates on the wrong side of the body or the wrong body part. There are wrong dose mistakes in which a patient is given a wrong dose of the proper medication. There are wrong medication mistakes in which the patient is given an improper medication. There are wrong time mistakes in which the right thing is done at the wrong time. And then there are wrong patient mistakes.
An example of wrong patient mistake would be a surgery or other procedure in which the wrong patient is brought to the operating room. Almost every hospital has a procedure in place today to prevent this type of mistake. Prior to the procedure, there is a “time out” during which the nurses compare the name of the patient to undergo the procedure with the identification bracelet the hospital put on the patient at the beginning of the stay. The “time out” may also involve asking the patient who he or she is and if they are to have the scheduled procedure. These “time out” breaks have been very successful in reducing the number of wrong patient mistakes. Sometimes, however, the system just doesn’t work the way it is supposed to. According to news reports, such a breakdown occurred in a Bronx hospital in New York City and it led to a most unusual lawsuit.
The sequence of events began when a man was brought to the hospital in a coma following a drug overdose. The doctors quickly concluded that there was little chance he would survive. The hospital called the man’s sister to come and see her brother and make decisions about his care. The problem was that the comatose patient was not the brother of the woman the hospital called. He had a name which was very similar to that of the brother and the hospital misidentified him when he was brought in. Unfortunately, he looked enough like the brother that the sister was unable to tell the difference. At least in part this was probably due to swelling of the facial features and ventilator tubes covering part of the man’s face.
For nearly two weeks the sister stayed by the man’s bed and never realized it was not her brother. Other family members were summoned to say last goodbyes and they did not recognize the man was not their relative either. Meanwhile, the real brother was in jail and not in communication with his family.
Finally, the doctors caring for the patient asked the woman for permission to terminate life support as there was no real chance that the patient would ever wake up. He was brain dead and only being kept alive by the machines. Though she hated to let her brother go, she gave permission. It was only when an autopsy was performed on the dead man that the mistake in identity was recognized and the woman informed that it was not her brother who had died in the hospital.
Now the woman is suing the hospital for the mental anguish she suffered while grieving for her brother and for ending the life of a stranger. A most unusual lawsuit indeed.