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Case Study on Mistaken Identity

The emergency department (ED) is located in an urban, not-for-profit, acute hospital and is a very busy place. It is not unusual for the wait time to be 3-4 hours, except in the most extreme of emergencies, which are called “immediate.” Sydney, a five-month-old female, was brought to the ED by her mother for raspy breathing, a condition that her mother had not noted previously in Sydney’s health history. Sydney’s chart was marked “urgent,” and she was to be seen by hospital protocol within 2 hours of the initial triage. Within about an hour, “Sydney’s” name was called, and a mother and a 3-year-old child responded and were escorted to an examination room. As it turns out, the 3-year-old child’s mother speaks only Spanish and did not recognize the difference between the page of “Sydney” and her daughter’s name, which is “Cindy.”
Since neither the doctor nor the nurse could speak Spanish, the patient assessment continued as thoroughly as possible. Some of the patient’s information was already on the chart (from Sydney and her mother, given that some information was obtained at the initial intake by the clerk at the ED desk). The doctor is a full-time employee of the hospital. The nurse is a contractor who has signed on for a 30-day assignment with this hospital.
The error in patient identity was not discovered by either the doctor or the nurse until a pharmacist brought the prescription order to the doctor’s attention. The dosage of medication was not appropriate for the body weight of a 3-year-old (but possibly would have been appropriate for a 5-month-old, whose information from the chart was given to the pharmacist as per protocol in filling pediatric prescriptions). While Cindy is being examined, Sydney’s respiratory status worsens. Sydney is escorted to an examination room as soon as the error is discovered. Sydney’s mother finds out about the mishap and claims emotional distress.
*NOTE: This scenario is a highly fictionalized version of a situation that is based on an actual case (O’Neill, et al., 2004).
· Identify the main facts of the case. You may itemize these in a bulleted list.
· Identify any legal issues that are present, as well as the doctrines and/or duties that apply. You may itemize these in a bulleted list.
· Based on your knowledge of legal doctrine as covered in this class so far, is there a legal basis for any action by either mother towards the corporation? Explain your answer.
· Would either mother be justified in claiming a tort of negligence or emotional distress? Why or why not?
· If you were the lawyer representing Sydney’s mother, what additional facts would you deem important to successfully representing her?
· Identify at least three (3) policies that the hospital administrator could put into place in this department that, if followed, could have prevented some of these mishaps.
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