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Dallas Doctor in Initial Ebola Case Acknowledges Diagnosis Error

Earlier this year we wrote about how the ill-advised medical malpractice laws in Texas will likely prevent those responsible for failing to diagnose the initial Ebola patient in America responsible. Despite the missed diagnosis, harsh tort reform laws will likely prevent any civil recovery against those responsible. Now the doctor involved in the case has admitted that his diagnosis was erroneous, but the doctor still insists that his care was appropriate under the circumstances.

Hospital Acknowledged that Nurses and Doctors Had Access to Patients Travel Information

Back in October The New York Times reported on Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital’s response to its failure to diagnose Thomas E. Duncan with Ebola. Mr. Duncan was a Liberian national visiting who had just traveled to the United States to visit loved ones when he visited the hospital and was sent home. He was later diagnosed with Ebola, which caused his death. The hospital that originally sent him home released a statement blaming an error in its electronic health records system for the missed diagnosis. It initially claimed that the doctors involved did not receive information that Mr. Duncan had traveled from Africa. However, the hospital then back tracked and claimed that there was no electronic records flaw and that “the patient’s travel history was documented and available to the full care team in the electronic health record…”

Now the Emergency Room Doctor Discusses His Role in the Missed Diagnosis

The Dallas Morning News reported earlier this month on emergency room doctor Joseph Howard Meier’s statements on his role in the missed Ebola diagnosis. The doctor was hours into his overnight shift when he first saw Mr. Duncan. Duncan was complaining of a headache and abdominal pain. Dr. Meier checked Duncan’s vital signs and ordered some tests. A few hours later he diagnosed Duncan with sinusitis, wrote him a prescription for antibiotics, and sent him on his way. Two days later Duncan was back and a blood test showed he was suffering from Ebola.

Despite the hospital’s earlier statement that the information that Duncan had traveled from Africa was right there in the electronic medical record, Meier claims that he did not know at the time of his misdiagnosis that Duncan had just arrived from Liberia. Of course, Meier admits to the misdiagnosis-there is no escaping the fact that it occurred. He also admits that he received an email from the Centers for Disease Control in August, before treating Duncan, warning first responders of the possibility of patients having Ebola. But told The Dallas Morning News that his care was appropriate given what he knew
Ebola is an extremely rare condition in the United States-it makes sense that it is not the first thing that comes to mind when a patient shows up to a hospital in the U.S. with a headache. But experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the infectious disease unit at the National Institutes of Health point to a vital piece of information the hospital had here but ignored-a nurse made a note in Duncan’s records that he had just traveled from Africa. That should have alerted Meier to the issue. Asking questions about recent travel is a basic part of getting a patient’s medical history.

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