Callous or careless?: Hospital said fetus was dead, but it wasn’t

Here’s another cringe-worthy story from the hospital world which should make healthcare leaders say “Ouch!”  According to a report from the BBC, a hospital told parents of  a developing baby that their child was dead — but later found out that it wasn’t.

The basics of the story are as follows. Last July, Dublin-based Michael Redmond and his wife Melissa went to get a prenatal check-up at  Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.  After conducting a scanning test (not named in the article) the staff told her the baby was dead and advised her to make arrangements to remove the deceased fetus.

Not satisfied with this result, which didn’t square with her instincts, Melissa got a second opinion from a local doctor, and learned that her son was in fact alive. Her baby boy, Michael Jr, is now 13 weeks old, the Beeb story reports.

Our Lady of Lourdes has considerable experience dealing with pregnancy and delivery — in fact, according to published reports, 4,000 women gave birth there last year, and it runs a regional NICU. But all of that is useless if your technology doesn’t work. As it turned out, the scanning equipment used by Our Lady of Lourdes  was six years old, an age which might have contributed to or even caused the misdiagnosis, news reports suggest.

Now, I don’t mean to be callous, but we all know that mistakes happen. We’d all like to see them eliminated — and many clinicians give their lives to reducing medical errors — but we’ll never get the number down to zero.  That being said, it’s worth pausing to see what we can take away from this case. Some points that leapt out at me:

 Are we taking the patient’s input seriously?  I have no way of knowing, but my gut tells me that this woman must have communicated her distrust of the results to caregivers at the hospital.  If  they minimized her concerns or even ignored her, and could have committed irreversible harm.  To my knowledge, few hospitals are doing much to catch “not listening” errors — but clearly, they should.

* When a patient complains, double-check everything:  Even if this hospital did listen to Melissa Redmond, and advised her to get a second opinion, I doubt they would have double-checked how their equipment was functioning. They would probably have gone about their business, using the scanner as always, since their analysis would not have too deeply into Ms. Redmond’s worries.

Now, the kicker. Despite looking a near-catastrophe in the fact, it took the Irish hospital six months to change the scanner after finding out about the Redmond’s traumatic experience.  Not very reassuring, is it?

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.