Monday, October 4, 2010
Help Me Howard: Baby Not Sick
If you were in the hospital, they told you something was wrong, treated you, then came in a few days later and they said, 'Oops. There is nothing wrong with you.' Do you have to pay for that unneeded medical care? It's a question we got, so let's bring in Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- The good news: Kerry and Bianca's daughter is just what they expected.
Bianca Chow, mother: "Yes, and more. Definitely. She is a great baby."
Now the bad news. After Kristy was born, her parents were terrified.
Bianca Chow: "The nurse just took her away and said that some of the results had come out with a problem."
The Chows were told Kristy's blood work showed she may have a bacterial infection. She was taken to the intensive care unit, where she was hooked to an IV. More blood was drawn, and then they did a spinal tap.
Bianca Chow: "I cried, I cried. I couldn't stop crying."
After three days, the Chows say, the baby's doctor came to talk to them.
Kerry Chow, father: "The doctor told us, 'There was a mistake. It was contaminated. Test was contaminated. Test was contaminated, so the baby was fine the whole time. The baby was fine the whole time."
Once the shock wore off, the Chows were happy. Kristy was healthy, and they could go home. But of course, bad news followed.
Bianca Chow: "You keep getting more bills, more bills, and you just don't know where it's going to end."
First came the lab and doctor bills, then this $18,944 hospital bill that includes those three days in intensive care. The Chows have insurance, but their co-payment is almost $4,000.
Bianca Chow: "It's overwhelming. It's very overwhelming, because we both work and we are on top of our bills, and we would never want to not pay anybody."
The Chows paid their share of the lab bills and doctor bills, but they say paying the hospital bill for a stay in intensive care that was not needed is not fair.
Bianca Chow: "It's not fair to her. It's not fair to us. It's not fair to anybody if it happens to anybody else."
Well Howard, if there is a mistake, do you have to pay for the extra days in the hospital?
Howard Finkelstein: "This is complicated. If the mistake rises to the level of malpractice, meaning that the hospital performed below the standard of acceptable care, then you do not have to pay those medical bills. However, if the medical care was the appropriate procedure, just because it turns out the care was not needed does not make it a legal mistake."
A spokesperson for the hospital told me they don't charge patients if there was a mistake. But in this case, they said, there was no mistake, that when the mother delivered, she had a beta strep infection, not usually dangerous for an adult but dangerous for a newborn, that it would take 48 hours for the lab to determine if the baby was born with the infection, and in those 48 hours, the baby could die. So they started her on tests that included a spinal tap. Their protocol requires it to insure the baby stays healthy, and they followed their protocol.
Howard Finkelstein: "One thing you can't dispute: medical procedures are extremely complicated. It takes a medical professional to explain why things are done or need to be done. If you think a mistake was made and your doctor's explanation doesn't satisfy you, contact a malpractice attorney. Let them determine if it was a mistake or a proper procedure."
The Chows will have to find a way to pay that large hospital bill, but at least they have a healthy baby to make them smile.
Kerry Chow: "Best thing that's ever happened to us."
Patrick Fraser: "In this case, it appears there was no mistake. But in other cases, how difficult is it to prove malpractice? Very difficult. Not only do you have to prove they made a mistake but that it was a significant mistake that hurt you badly. It's also expensive, which is why lawyers only take cases they think they are almost guaranteed to win."
Babied a problem you need to pass on? Need someone to give you intensive care? Let us take a shot. We will nurse you along and infect you with satisfaction, or so we hope.