A woman in her early fifties was admitted to the hospital with rheumatic heart disease, a condition resulting from a childhood case of strep throat that went untreated. Her deteriorating health, the result of improperly functioning heart valves, left her with edema in her legs and short of breath. Her doctor was recommending an overnight stay in the hospital, but the patient was extremely reluctant to comply; she’d stayed overnight before, but each time she’d had a family member present. She was unwilling to be alone in a strange place overnight.
A battle of wills
Despite the patient’s fear of spending the night alone in sterile, uncomfortable environment (an understandable fear that could unduly stress her already fragile health), her physician, Dr. Ersilia DeFilippis, continued to make logical arguments about the medical reasons her patient should stay in the hospital; the official medical advice was against discharge, even just for the night. Dr. DeFilippis believed that it would be a medical mistake to leave the hospital.
“But I could not change her mind. I realized then that it was me who was making the mistake. It was not my decision to make. As physicians, we forget that time passes outside of the hospital walls. We sometimes isolate our patient’s stories and illnesses, independent of what’s going on in their lives, or their circumstances. My patient had a childhood very much unlike mine, her life continually defined by fear and loneliness,” Dr. DeFilippis wrote in a recent column in The New York Times.
Doctor doesn’t always know best
The patient understood why her doctor was recommending an overnight stay; she understood the possible consequences of leaving, and knew what new symptoms to look out for. However, her discomfort at the thought of being alone overnight outweighed any benefit that a hospital stay would confer. Doctors must have the confidence to form a medical opinion and stand by it, but that opinion must take the patient’s circumstances into account in order to be valid; decisions cannot be made in a vacuum.
In addition, Dr. DeFilippis notes in her article, healthcare providers tend to brand patients who leave against medical advice as “non-compliant, ungrateful, or unwilling to accept appropriate medical care.” Often, those labels are applied to combative patients with substance abuse or psychiatric histories. Leaving A.M.A. is, statistically speaking, more likely to result in serious complications or re-admittance within two weeks. However, not every case is the same, and stubbornly refusing to acknowledge life events can be more harmful than helpful.
If you believe that your loved one has received bad medical advice, been misdiagnosed or mistreated at the hands of a medical professional, you may be a victim of medical malpractice and entitled to compensation. The experienced attorneys of Plaxen & Adler, P.A. can help. Please call 410.988.4449, or fill out our contact form, to schedule a free consultation with a skilled Maryland medical malpractice lawyer from our firm.