An old friend was frantically looking for me recently. One of his family members had recently walked into hospital for what may be regarded as a pretty routine surgical procedure. But in the dead of one night, a previously unrecognised complication became apparent. An emergency procedure had to be done, with consequent loss of function in a major organ.
The patient immediately transitioned into permanent disability. The family wanted to understand what really transpired, but they were facing obstacles. My friend wanted me to help get more info on their behalf, based on my medical contacts.
That’s no easy task, matters of confidentiality come in that bar third parties from seeking information that they aren’t entitled to. What my friend required was simple advice on how to negotiate such a scenario. For starters, patients have a right to all their medical data, no ifs or buts. Patients can also nominate selected individuals and authorise them to be privy to all their confidential medical information.
Such individuals can be family members, friends or whoever they deem fit. Medics then have an obligation to share relevant medical details, especially in the setting of medical complications.
If medics are not forthcoming with information despite all confidentiality permissions being in place, then there’s a problem. The next step is to involve the hospital administration. True, there may be bureaucracies involved in getting the ear of the CEO.
But often times such a move facilitates immediate action. If you come a cropper, your options become rather limited. You might head to the regulatory health board, or to the courts. Medical complications do happen, even with the best of healthcare teams.
What is important is timely interventions when a complication occurs. It’s then obligatory for the medical team to share what transpired, and what was done to manage the situation.
There’s an ethical principle called medical candour, which should be upheld by every medic. Any medic who finds it hard to share medical details with patients should be in a different profession.
Back to my friend. They are still stuck with more queries than answers. The trust they had bestowed on their clinical team has been eroded. Regrettably, they have had to use an attorney in their quest for information. It shouldn’t have gotten this far.
Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynaecologist and Fertility Specialist.