Family Upset Hospital ‘Robot’ Delivered Terminal News

A California hospital patient was given the worst kind of news, a terminal health diagnosis, by what his family described as a “robot,” NBC News reports.

Ernest Quintana, 79, was at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in the intensive care unit with his granddaughter, Annalisia Wilharm. A nurse delivered to the family a device that includes a video screen which is used to conference in medical professionals from remote locations outside the hospital. The doctor, through the video chat, broke heart-breaking news to the two: Quintana’s lungs were failing and it was likely that he would not live long.

Wilharm said that she was extremely surprised that the news was broken in that way, on a screen instead of through a doctor present personally in the room. While the hospital acknowledged that the situation was unusual, they disputed the characterization of the tele-conferenced doctor as “a robot.”

Michelle Gaskill-Hames, senior vice president for the hospital, expressed regret for how it was handled regardless.

“We regret falling short in meeting the patient’s and family’s expectations in this situation and we will use this as an opportunity to review how to improve patient experience with tele-video capabilities,” the hospital said in a statement.

Gaskill-Hames explained that the so-called robot was simply technology that allowed the hospital access to a greater network of medical professionals than they would otherwise be able to maintain in the building, giving the small hospital the ability to provide specialists around the clock who might otherwise not be able to be present for patients on site.

“This secure video technology is a live conversation with a physician using tele-video technology, and always with a nurse or other physician in the room to explain the purpose and function of the technology,” she said. “It does not, and did not, replace ongoing in-person evaluations and conversations with a patient and family members.”

Quintana’s daughter, Catherine Quintana, thought the interaction should have been handled differently.

“If you’re coming to tell us normal news, that’s fine, but if you’re coming to tell us there’s no lung left and we want to put you on a morphine drip until you die, it should be done by a human being and not a machine,” she said.

Catherine Quintana also pointed out that her father had trouble understanding the doctor as his voice played through the speakers in the device, making for a needlessly awkward, confusing, and ultimately insensitive experience.

Her father died two days after the consultation.

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