Thursday, July 9, 2009

An Important Malpractice Precedent

The Vancouver Sun has an interesting article about a recent malpractice case. The article discusses the case of Shawn Kahlon, who had a bout of lower back pain ten years ago. Mr. Kahlon had spinal tuberculosis; however, the diagnosis did not occur until a full year after he started having the back pain. By then, the TB had already spread to his brain and caused severe damage.

In 1999, Mr. Kahlon went to a physician who ordered a CT scan in the hopes that it would provide insight into the back pain. The radiologist noticed some abnormalities and wanted Mr. Kahlon to come in for a follow-up scan with contrast dye. Scans using contrast dyes do have risks associated with them (as does EVERY procedure you do in the hospital...or even life...seriously, even walking up stairs has associated risks, so don't think any hospital procedure is completely safe); however, most patients go through contrast dye scans without any complications (as always, you should ask your physician if you are going through a contrast dye scan and you have any concerns). The article states that Mr. Kahlon's physician had noted in his chart that Mr. Kahlon seemed hesitant about undergoing the scan.

Unfortunately, two key speakers were not able to provide testimony for this trial. Mr. Kahlon's TB meningitis had left him with cognitive impairments so he could not take the stand. Also, Mr. Kahlon's family physician had died a year earlier, so he too could not take the stand. Thus, a considerable number of assumptions must have been made throughout this trial.

The issue that I found most interesting about this trial is that it set a very important precedent for future malpractice cases. The judge cleared the physicians of any liability and found that the hospital and health authority were 70 percent liable, and Mr. Kahlon was 30 percent liable. This was an important precedent because it protects the physicians. Finding the physicians liable would have been similar to telling every physician in Canada that they need to chase their patients to ensure they followed through on the advice they were given, a task that does not need to be put on our already over-worked doctors.

Unfortunately, the article did not really go into detail about how the hospital was responsible. It seems to me like Mr. Kahlon was told he needed a contrast dye scan and he decided not to do it. If that is actually what happens, then it seems to me that Mr. Kahlon is 100 perecent liable. Regardless, this was a very unfortunate case and hopefully Mr. Kahlon will be able to make a partial, if not complete, recovery.

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