Family Upset After Doctor Delivers Bad News via Hospital Robot

Family Upset After Doctor Delivers Bad News via Hospital Robot
In this file images, beds are prepared in the intensive care unit section of a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, on Jan. 15, 2010. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Janita Kan

To hear that a family member doesn't have long to live is never easy. But hearing it from a robot was devastating for one family from California.

The family member, Ernest Quintana, 79, was admitted into Kaiser Permanente Medical Center's emergency department on March 3.

Quintana's granddaughter Annalisia Wilharm told KTVU that she was by her grandfather's side in ICU when it happened. A nurse came in and told her that the doctor was making rounds.

A short while later, a robot entered the room, with the doctor appearing on the robot's video screen. This was how they learned Quintana's lungs were failing and he didn't have long to live.

"You might not make it home," the doctor said on the screen, which Wilharm had filmed so she could show her mother and grandmother the test results.

Wilharm said she didn't expect this to happen, and she was shocked that the news was delivered through a robot.

"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," she told the news station.

In a Facebook post, Wilharm wrote on March 6, "This was horrible for me and him."

A family friend Julianne Spangler said in a Facebook post that Quintana passed away on March 5, one day after the robot delivered the news. She also expressed outrage about the hospital's handling of the patient.

"This is not the way to show value and compassion to a patient... shame on you Kaiser!!" she wrote.

"That Robot Dr. May be ok for some situations but not to tell a Man he is going to Die. Technology at it's best?"

Quintana's daughter and Wilharm's mother, Catherine, told the news station that she was upset because her father couldn't hear very well and needed Wilharm to repeat everything the doctor said to him, putting the family through more pain.

In another interview, Catherine told Mercury News that the hospital did not relay the doctor's prognosis to her and her mother and that they had to learn it through Wilharm.

“It was handled with no compassion at all by this robot, there was no bedside manner, no nothing,” she said.

“It needed to be a person, for God’s sake. My mom and myself should have been there. We want to never have this happen to anyone again.”

In a statement to KTVU, Kaiser Permanente Senior Vice-President Michelle Gaskill-Hames said this case was a "highly unusual circumstance."

"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," she said in the statement.

"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."