Everybody's absent-minded sometimes. But when doctors at University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle left a 13-inch retractor inside a patient after surgery, they may have redefined the term.
In June 2000, Seattle resident Donald Church underwent surgery at 376-bed UWMC to remove a malignant intestinal tumor. After the procedure, surgeons overlooked the fact that they had closed up Church without removing the metal device used to hold open his abdomen during surgery.
"I couldn't bend my body. I couldn't tie my shoe," Church, 49, told Outliers. "It was like all the organs in my body were lining up to say, `It's my turn to give you pain.' "
Church says his surgeon told him in the weeks after surgery that his pain was from scar tissue and he shouldn't be concerned. But when the pain continued for some 21/2 months, Church went to his family doctor, who promptly ordered a CT scan that found the device.
Having thought his post-operative pain was caused by remnants of the tumor, Church "was relieved to know I'd been suffering because my body was trying to combat that lawn mower blade they left inside me."
In August of last year, Church had the device removed, but he made sure it was by another surgeon, this time at Swedish Medical Center-Providence Campus in Seattle.
In a written statement, UWMC said, "this was an unfortunate mistake for which we accept full responsibility. We are deeply sorry that this gentleman had this experience while entrusting his healthcare to us." It was not clear if the unnamed surgeon was disciplined.
Last month, Church received $97,000 to settle a lawsuit he had filed against the hospital.
Define `prepared.' Hospitals face a delicate balancing act when it comes to letting the world know how prepared they are for biological or chemical terrorism. How do you impress upon lawmakers that you need funds to bolster readiness while at the same time reassuring your community that you are prepared for anything?
Sen. William Frist (R-Tenn.) told reporters last week just how unprepared hospitals in his home state are for bioterrorism. While meeting with officials from four hospitals on Oct. 15 in Nashville, including 572-bed Vanderbilt University Hospital, Frist asked if they had bioterrorism response plans. "They said no," Frist said. "Then I said, `If you see smallpox, is there a way to immediately notify other hospitals?' and they answered no."
Yet a headline appearing in the Oct. 5 issue of Vanderbilt University Medical Center's online publication, The Reporter, reads "VUMC vs. bioterrorism-Medical Center prepared for biological, chemical terrorism." Vanderbilt University Hospital is part of VUMC.
Any preparedness for bioterrorism by early October must have entailed some pretty quick work on the part of Vanderbilt. "Sen. Frist is absolutely correct, we didn't have anything that addressed bioterrorism before Sept. 11," says Vanderbilt spokesman John Howser. "It took us several weeks to get a plan together."
Howser also says that if the hospital diagnosed a patient with smallpox, it would alert the state health department and let that agency handle communication with other healthcare facilities. "I think he has got a valid point," says Howser of Frist's concern over the lack of hospital-to-hospital communication during a bioterrorism crisis.
Reps. Bickerson. When last we left the sometimes-volatile House Ways and Means health subcommittee, members were unanimously voting for legislation to roll back some of the regulatory burdens on providers and patting themselves on the back for their bipartisanship. Last week, however, partisanship again reared its ugly head as the panel heard testimony on the future of Medicare HMOs.
The sniping began as subcommittee Chairman Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) protested that senior Democrat Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) handed her a General Accounting Office report on how Medicare HMOs used their increased 2001 payments only minutes before the hearing. Her ire also may have been raised by the fact that the GAO report had been leaked to the New York Times, which reported on it the morning of the hearing.
Stark shot back: "At least we invite you to the meeting, which is not a courtesy you always extend to Democrats."
The hearing was held a day after Republican and Democratic staff of the subcommittee appeared side-by-side to brief reporters on the final version of the regulatory relief bill to be considered by the House last week.