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  • The doctor on a video conference explained to Ernest Quintana that he did not have long to live.

    The doctor on a video conference explained to Ernest Quintana that he did not have long to live. | Photo: Julianne Spangler Facebook

Published 10 March 2019

Ernest Quintana and his family were unpleasantly surprised when the robot rolled in to tell them that he was dying.

As a robot rolled into Ernest Quintana's room and a doctor appeared on the video screen, he and his granddaughter were devastated as the specialist on screen informed them he was soon going to die, members of the family informed Friday. 

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The event took place on March 3 when Quintana, a 78-year-old man, was urgently taken to Kaiser Permanente Medical Center emergency department in Fremont, California as he was unable to breathe due to chronic lung disease. Two days after, on Tuesday, Quintana passed away. However, the way the doctor revealed the news surprised and angered his family members. 

“If you’re coming to tell us normal news, that’s fine, but if you’re coming to tell us there’s no lung left and we want to put you on a morphine drip until you die, it should be done by a human being and not a machine,” his daughter Catherine Quintana said.

On that night, his granddaughter Annalisia Wilharm was alone with Quintana in his room in the intensive care unit when a nurse, doing her routine visits, came in to tell them a doctor would be making his rounds. To their surprise, a robot rolled in and a doctor appeared via video conference.

“So we’ve got your results back, and there’s no lung left. There’s no lung to work with,” said the physician. As Quintana had trouble hearing in his right ear and the machine couldn’t get to the other side of the bed, Wilharm had to painfully repeat everything the robot was telling them.

When she questioned about hospice care, the doctor responded by saying he “doesn’t know if he’s going to get home.” Then suggested giving Quintana morphine, although that could make breathing even more difficult.
 
“This guy cannot breathe, and he’s got this robot trying to talk to him. I wanted to throw up. It felt like someone took the air out of me,” said Wilharm. 
 
Senior vice president of Kaiser Permanente Greater Southern Alameda County, Michelle Gaskill-Hames, mentioned that the situation is highly unusual and “regret falling short” of the patient’s expectations. But also defended the use of telemedicine and said its policy is to have a nurse or doctor in the room at the time of remote consultations.
 
As the Director of the Biomedicine Research Center (Cenbio) from UTE University in Ecuador told teleSUR a “more humane treatment is more resounding on a patient's health”. This is based upon a 2018 study his Center published with the Pan American Health Organization, which established that when doctors take more time to explain, understand and advise their patients there is a significant effect on their overall health results.


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