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Nova Scotia doctor reprimanded in treatment of elderly woman who died

Last Updated Jan 16, 2018 at 6:00 pm EST

HALIFAX – A Nova Scotia doctor has been reprimanded for the inadequate care of an elderly patient who eventually died.

The province’s College of Physicians and Surgeons said Dr. Justin Clark did not adequately care for an elderly woman who came to the Colchester East Hants Health Centre in Truro, N.S., complaining of weakness.

The college’s ruling said the patient — who was in declining health with a recent history of urinary tract infections — arrived at the hospital’s emergency room in early 2017 and underwent blood work, urinalysis and chest x-rays.

It said Clark stated that the blood work came back “good,” and informed her family that her antibiotics would be stopped and she would be released from hospital.

But her condition did not improve. The following day, she was sent back to the hospital by her family doctor, where it was determined that her blood work was “worrisome.”

She was admitted to hospital for acute hepatitis and died the following week.

The woman’s daughter alleged Clark gave the family inaccurate information about her mother’s blood work, and did not take her condition seriously because of her age.

The daughter said while she’s unsure whether her mother would have lived longer had she not been sent home that day, she could have at least had another comfortable night.

“Although the committee cannot comment on whether the patient’s eventual outcome could have been avoided, the fact remains Dr. Clark should have initiated treatment earlier,” the decision said.

“The complainant and her family left the emergency department hopeful and trusting of Dr. Clark’s plan for their mother and later discovered the results they were given were not correct. This delayed their mother’s care.”

Clark admitted during the investigation that he failed to properly review the results, the decision said. He told college investigators that blood work can sometimes be mixed up due to clerical errors, and that he likely was reviewing someone else’s blood results.

He also apologized during his interview with college investigators.

“I feel terrible about missing the blood work and especially how they felt I was dismissive with their loved one’s complaints. I will use this experience to improve my care going forward,” he said.

The college had additional concerns with Clark, including a lack of documentation of the case, a failure to take a history and physically examine the patient, and an inappropriate discussion with the family around palliative care without a clear diagnosis.

The college said he consented to reprimands for failing to ensure the laboratory results he ordered were appropriately reviewed, for failing to perform and document an appropriate history and physical examination, and for giving the family palliative care advice with limited knowledge of the patient.