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Corrected 3/23/08: The hospital does have online patient records, though they don’t include CT/MRI or mammogram results. See link and details below.

This one strikes close to home, landing a year after removal of my own cancerous kidney … plus, a year earlier, I lived 15 miles from this hospital. So this could have been me.

Article: Doctors remove cancer patient’s healthy kidney by mistake

Apparently, a few weeks before surgery somebody marked the chart wrong, saying the wrong kidney had the cancer. From that point on, things went exactly according to procedure. …

The error wasn’t discovered until the day after surgery, when the pathologist basically said “Um, there’s no cancer in this thing.”

Defenders of the Walled City approach to medicine, please note: this was not caused by empowered patients Googling for medical information on unsafe web sites. To the contrary, can there be any doubt this could have been prevented if empowered patients and their families had been involved, with full access to their records, and had been reading them? (Please read the e-Patient White Paper, PDF or Wiki version.)

Patients MUST have access to their records, as PatientSite and similar sites allow!

Correction 3/22/08: Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital does have partial online medical records, through its Patient Online system. I briefly tried the guest tour – interesting comment in the Reports section: “Reports currently include only simple x-rays. All other reports, such as CT/MRI and mammograms, are not yet available on Patient Online.”

Please note, too, that this was not a slacker hospital – to the contrary

  • according to the Associated Press, “It had been a point of pride at Methodist Hospital that Gov. Tim Pawlenty came there four years ago” to sign the bill creating Minnesota’s first-in-the-nation adverse health event reporting system
  • Member of quality/safety advocate The Leapfrog Group
  • Many awards
  • Patient bill of rights & responsibilities. (I’m not sure I agree with it all, and I don’t see anything about access to one’s records.)

And yet, they had no requirement to verify surgical sites using diagnostic imaging. (Now they do.)

Look: Humans make mistakes. I’ve caught a couple of errors on my own radiology reports, and have had them corrected. Both were very minor compared to this. (One identified me as a 53 year old woman. Sure caught my eye. It took two requests, but I insisted they fix it.)

It should be MANDATORY that patients be given online access to their records, and should be ENCOURAGED to read them. (Offline paper access is not sufficient; it’s not constantly up to date, it’s not convenient enough to actually get used, and not easily shared with distant helpers. Get the data in the system, and get it published online!)

On top of the family tragedy, I cannot imagine what life is like right now for the surgeon who wrote that one wrong thing on the chart. Can there be any better example of the e-patient tagline “because health professionals can’t do it alone”?

If motivated “family proofreaders” had been looking over everyone’s shoulder, the worst this would have amounted to is an angry “Man, that was a close call. How did that happen??” But, now look.