I spoke to a doctor friend the other day who was understandably upset when she told me about a patient of hers who died because she didn’t have insurance and didn’t want to go to the ER because of lack of funds.
The patient presented with the typical signs of anemia. She would only let the doc perform a finger stick which showed a hemotocrit of 6! I repeat 6. (Normal for women is 38-46). The doctor told me she sat with her patient for over ½ an hour (ignoring all her other patients) begging her to go to the hospital. The patient thought she could go home and eat red meat and feel better even though told that she needed to go to the hospital emergently.
The doctor was told that the patient had been driven to the appointment by an unknown man who was in the waiting room. Eventually she had to let the patient leave and hope that she would go to the hospital. She then told me that she called the patient two days later and the phone was answered by a man who said he was the patient’s fiancé and that the patient had died.
My Dr. friend said that had she known that he was her fiancé and not just a “ride” she would have marched into the waiting arena and “HIPAA be dammed” told him to take the patient to the hospital right away.
Now, what are your thoughts on this? Should she have ignored HIPAA and done just that? We all know hindsight is 20/20.
Assuming that the patient was informed about how serious the situation was, is it the physicians responsibility to override the patients desire to return home because of lack of insurance and money? Should she have asked the patient who was with her?
This physician is an excellent doctor and very caring, she is a great diagnostician too, but is there anything she could have done and not violated HIPAA?