Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Fremont, California, recently apologized for sending a robot to tell a patient that he was dying. The robot, basically an iPad on wheels, had a video feed of the patient’s doctor on the screen. Ernest Quintana, the 79-year-old patient, was in the hospital due to difficulty breathing—his lungs were failing.
Quintana’s family was in the hospital with him waiting for more information about his condition when they were told that the doctor would be in to see them soon.
“The nurse came around and said the doctor was going to make rounds and I thought ‘OK, no big deal, I’m here,’ ” Quintana’s granddaugter Annalisia Wilharm told KTVU.
When the robot entered the room, the family was under the impression that the doctor would be handling some small tasks remotely, but they had no idea that it would be breaking devastating news to them.
“When I took the video, I didn’t realize all of this was going to unfold,” Wilharm said.
Over the video feed, Quintana’s doctor told him and his entire family that he did not have long to live.
“You might not make it home,” the doctor’s image on the screen told the family.
Wilharm says that the way the message was delivered made receiving the news even worse.
“Devastated. I was going to lose my grandfather. We knew that this was coming and that he was very sick. But I don’t think somebody should get the news delivered that way. It should have been a human being come in,” Wilharm said.
Quintana’s daughter Catherine pointed out that her father wasn’t even able to hear the doctor’s voice through the speakers.
“He already has a problem hearing. So with that, and everything, he couldn’t hear very well. She had to repeat everything the doctor was saying,” Catherine Quintana said.
The Quintana family says that hospital staff told them that this new technology was being rolled out for everyone.
“It’s policy, that’s what we do now. That’s what we were told,” Catherine Quintana said.
“This is a highly unusual circumstance. We regret falling short in meeting the patient’s and family’s expectations in this situation and we will use this as an opportunity to review our practices and standards with the care team,” said the Kaiser statement.
The Quintana family hopes Kaiser and any other hospitals using robots to communicate with patients will review their policies and how they are integrating the technology into patients’ care.
“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. It just shouldn’t happen,” Catherine Quintana said.
Since the family has gone public with their experience, the hospital is now distancing themselves from the policy.
Michelle Gaskill-Hames, Senior Vice President and Area Manager, Kaiser Permanente Greater Southern Alameda County released the following statement about the incident and the alleged policy:
“We use video technology as an appropriate enhancement to the care team, and a way to bring additional consultative expertise to the bedside. Our health care staff receive extensive training in the use of telemedicine, but video technology is not used as a replacement for in-person evaluations and conversations with patients. In every aspect of our care, and especially when communicating difficult information, we do so with compassion in a personal manner. This is a highly unusual circumstance. We regret falling short in meeting the patient’s and family’s expectations in this situation and we will use this as an opportunity to review our practices and standards with the care team.”
Ernest Quintana died on Tuesday.