Review finds system failed cancer patient

In this Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 photo, chemotherapy is administered to a cancer patient via intravenous drip at Duke Cancer Center in Durham, N.C.
File photo. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

EDMONTON – Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne says he is directing doctors and other health officials to make changes following a report that a cancer patient died while being shuttled among specialists.

“The report screams out at you, ‘Who was responsible for this patient? Who was responsible for seeing that his journey through the health-care system was co-ordinated (and) that the information was shared?'” Horne told reporters Thursday.

“It really is an indictment of the health-care system in many respects as it related to this patient’s journey.

“The report talks about a series of events where, frankly, the dots were not connecting.”

Earlier Thursday in Calgary, Alberta’s watchdog Health Quality Council issued its report into the case of patient Greg Price.

The council says Price’s case illustrates that the province has dangerous gaps in care when someone has acute problems that demand attention from multiple specialists and departments.

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With the agreement of Price’s family, the council examined his treatment from the time he was first diagnosed with symptoms suggesting testicular cancer.

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The council says Price’s case became a tangled mess of unbooked appointments, delays in tests, and confusion over who was responsible to get him followup care.

The report found Price ended up being the one driving his treatment forward by making phone calls after lengthy delays.

“This patient was in the care of two, and then three primary care physicians, none of whom had access to his whole history,” read the report.

“He experienced delays in receiving important tests, difficulties contacting the specialists providing his care, insufficient communication from providers about appointments and results, and confusion about the process for booking appointments.”

Price eventually did get surgery for the cancer, but died three days later due to complications.

The council made 13 recommendations, including implementing safeguards in electronic record keeping to make sure a patient doesn’t get left behind and making sure doctors are clear who is the lead physician for each patient.

Price’s father, David, was at the Health Quality Council news conference. He said his son’s case was not isolated.

“We certainly have had a number of people come to us once they’ve heard a bit about it and want to compare notes,” said David Price. “But that doesn’t create action.

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“What needs to create action is the pressure to be brought to bear on those agencies and those organizations to respond to the recommendations and make change.”

The head of the Alberta Medical Association, which speaks for doctors, said in an open letter they will work to implement the recommendations.

“The patient must be supported and provided with guidance throughout the continuum of care,” Dr. Allan Garbutt said in the letter.

“We can, however, only achieve this by involving all members of the health care team — including our patients themselves.”

— With files from CHQR

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