The legislation is inspired by the work of Mr. Dolan with the family of a woman who lost her life after experiencing a complication after knee surgery. Diane Stewart, grandmother of 10, told her family of intense abdominal pain after having knee surgery at the Stanford University Medical Center. Even though her family informed nurses of the excruciating pain, and despite their requests to have a doctor see her, no doctors examined Ms. Stewart. A doctor only prescribed pain medication via telephone.
Soon Ms. Stewart was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit where she went into shock and died. Her death was caused by a bowel obstruction, a routine yet deadly if untreated complication of surgery.
Investigators from the California Department of Public Health found that parts of Ms. Stewart’s EMRs had been deleted after the incident. They also found that a nurse was told to make entries describing her care after Ms. Stewart passed away. With Mr. Dolan as their lawyer, the Stewart family filed a lawsuit against the hospital alleging that hospital employees tried to cover up errors in treatment by deleting files that could have revealed negligence on their parts.
A statement from the hospital said the deleted entries were “rough contemporaneous notes” that were never intended to be permanent parts of Ms. Stewart’s records. In addition, Ms. Stewart got appropriate care, and unfortunately, not every condition can be successfully treated, the hospital asserted.
According to Mr. Dolan, this law is necessitated by the shift to electronic medical records. Paper records left a trace. The delete button does not, and will not, unless SB 850 is passed. Patients rely on their health-care providers to be honest and to accurately record what has occurred. Most patients have never seen their medical records. They can by requesting them but most do not because they trust their doctors.
“We review our credit history but not our medical history. So no one knows, until after a tragedy, what is being recorded, omitted or deleted,” Mr. Dolan said. In regard to the loss of Ms. Stewart, he further stated, “This avoidable tragedy was compounded by the hospital’s deletion of Ms. Stewart’s medical history . . . the history of the negligence that led to her death. There shouldn’t have to be a law to promote integrity in the medical profession.”
If SB 850 becomes law, records of changes or deletions to EMRs will help hospitals, investigators, patients and their families, judges, and juries determine whether a patient received appropriate medical care before an adverse event occurred. This legislation represents a significant step toward making health care information and EMRs more accessible to patients and their representatives as well as a significant step toward improving patient care throughout the Golden State.
The Stewarts’ compelling story and the journey to enact SB 850 can be seen in this video featuring Mr. Dolan and Stewart family members.
Mr. Dolan and the attorneys of The Dolan Law Firm represent patients and their families in medical malpractice and other negligence lawsuits throughout the Bay Area. He has over 15 years of experience as a highly regarded advocate in medical malpractice, personal injury and other negligence cases. To contact Chris Dolan or any of the attorneys at The Dolan Law Firm, call 888-452-4752.