Emergency Room Care

By Michael Zerres

Phone Records Kept of Callbacks to Patients After Discharge

At least at one NJ hospital, records of telephone calls from physicians to patients previously discharged from the ER are maintained. In the case of Nishimura v. Spector, decided on April 20, 2006, the patient presented to the ER at Hunterdon Medical Center with a fever and flu-like symptoms. A diagnosis of pneumonia was made and antibiotics were prescribed. After taking one of the medications (Zithromax) the patient experienced hearing loss (a side effect of some antibiotics). The patient’s wife claimed to have called the emergency room doctor to complain about a new symptom of decreased ability to hear and was allegedly told to finish taking the medication, which Mr. Nishimura did, resulting in permanent deafness. However, the ER doctor was apparently able to disprove that any such call was made by the wife, as any telephone conversation with a patient who has been treated in the ER is recorded on a ‘call back documentation sheet’ and this form is then made a part of the patient’s chart. As there was no record of a call from the patient (along with the fact that the doctor was not even assigned to work the day of the wife’s alleged call), the jury found that there was no malpractice. Thus, this is probably a good custom for any hospital ER department to follow as emergency room patients may often call back to the hospital with continuing or new complaints and documentation of physician contact with the patient seems necessary to verify any new instructions given. Also, in any case involving ER care, where there is a question of whether a patient called the ER after discharge, it would seem to be a good idea to request from the hospital any forms or records they have to substantiate that patient was spoken to or otherwise contacted.

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