A Kansas doctor has filed a lawsuit against the University of Kansas Hospital Authority, saying a patient was misdiagnosed with cancer, wrongly had an “essential” organ removed and was never told about the mistakes.
University of Kansas Hospital Authority pathologist Dr. Lowell Tilzer accused the head of pathology at the University of Kansas Medical Center/University of Kansas Hospital of misdiagnosing a patient with cancer in the lawsuit (PDF) filed in state court last week. As a result, the patient had an essential body organ, or a substantial portion of it, removed at the hospital, the lawsuit alleged. The patient was never informed of the misdiagnosis, according to the lawsuit.
The Kansas City hospital said in a statement that it could not provide details about the lawsuit, but “just from a brief review of the allegations made, there is little to nothing in the petition that we believe to be grounded in truth.”
The hospital said the patient was “fully informed of the diagnosis and treatment plan after surgery and prior to leaving the hospital, and is pleased with the care and clinical outcome.”
The patient is not named in the lawsuit. The chair of the hospital's pathology department is also not named in the lawsuit, but Tilzer's attorney Joe Colantuono confirmed Wednesday that the lawsuit is referring to Dr. Meenakshi Singh.
An attempt to reach Singh was not immediately successful Wednesday morning.
According to the lawsuit, after the patient's organ was removed, other members of the hospital's pathology department examined tissue samples from the organ, twice, and determined the organ was not cancerous. The chair of the pathology department was told about the misdiagnosis but covered up the mistake by adding an addendum to her original report saying the original cancer diagnosis matched the removed organ, Tilzer alleged in the suit.
Tilzer then, in September 2015, urged hospital administrators to conduct a “root cause analysis” to investigate the underlying cause of the mistake. The hospital, however, did not investigate, Tilzer said in the complaint.
In April of this year, Tilzer reported the matter to the Joint Commission. Following that report, Tilzer alleged the hospital's president berated him, accused him of lying and asked if he wanted to resign.
In the lawsuit, Tilzer asks the court to enjoin the hospital from retaliating against him or firing him.
The Joint Commission wrote an email to Tilzer in April saying that it does not assess care of individual patients but focuses on processes and policies required by its standards. In that email, the Joint Commission also said it would not be able to provide Tilzer with the hospital's response to his allegations.
Nationally, when it comes to patient safety, experts say progress has been made, but much work remains. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported advances in patient safety in 2014, saying patients suffered from 1.3 million fewer hospital-acquired conditions from 2011 to 2013 than would have been expected had the rates of those conditions persisted at 2010 levels, saving about $12 billion in healthcare costs.
Some, however, doubt that patients are safer now than in the past. They say many patient safety issues, such as misdiagnosis, over-diagnoses and unnecessary procedures and tests, aren't included in current measurements.
The Institute of Medicine first shined a light on the country's “epidemic of medical errors” in its landmark 1999 report, To Err Is Human. That report said as many as 98,000 patients died in hospitals each year because of preventable medical errors.
Last year, the National Patient Safety Foundation also released guidelines (PDF) urging providers to perform root-cause analyses on “near misses” rather than just major mistakes.