A doctor was found to be breaking health standards after a woman waited seven months for an ultrasound that found she had a rare form of cancer.
The Commissioner of Health and Disability, Morag McDowell, published today a report that determines that the doctor violates the Code of Rights of Consumers of Health and Disability Services for “unacceptable delays” in the management of the woman’s referrals.
A woman in her sixties had various health problems. In 2019, he presented to the Emergency Department of his public hospital with stomach pain and other symptoms. The Emergency Department physician found her “systemically ill,” but her pain was managed with simple pain relief.
She was discharged from the hospital on suspicion of gallstones and was recommended to see her GP the next day to arrange an abdominal ultrasound. Her doctor was also recommended to refer her to outpatient cardiology for cardiac monitoring.
The woman visited her GP the next day, when he read her discharge letter and examined her. Although he intended to do so, the doctor did not refer the woman for an ultrasound or outpatient cardiology services, according to the report.
Two months later, the woman visited the doctor for another unrelated ACC problem and he noticed that she was still experiencing intermittent stomach pain. She told the doctor that she had not yet received her referral for the ultrasound. He then completed a referral to DHB for an abdominal ultrasound. However, this was rejected due to resource constraints, and the DHB advised that the physician request a community ultrasound.
However, the doctor did not refer the woman for a community ultrasound and did not refer her to outpatient cardiology services, which the woman was unaware of, even though she visited the office to see another doctor several times during the following months. .
Seven months after the initial referral was recommended, another doctor finally referred the woman for a community ultrasound. This led to the discovery of multiple solid masses in his liver and stones in his right kidney, and he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
While the Commissioner acknowledged that the medical center was busy at the time of these events and that there were staffing problems, she found the physician’s handling of the referral of the woman unacceptable.
“With patient safety as a priority, I think the physician needed to ensure that they implemented strategies to mitigate the risks associated with a high workload,” McDowell said.
“The repeated nature of the physician’s failure to act on the advice and recommendations received from his colleagues suggests that his strategies were either ineffective or absent.”
McDowell recommended that the physician inform you of additional strategies he has put in place to ensure referrals are completed as soon as possible and how the strategies will help you during particularly busy periods and staff shortages.