Doctor tells patient he doesn't have long to live through hospital robot's video screen

By Jana Katsuyama, KTVU , Leslie Dyste, KTVU

- When Ernest Quintana went into Kaiser Permanente Medical Center's emergency department in Fremont on Sunday, his wife of 58 years, his son, daughter and  granddaughter all worried about the 79-year-old man. 

They say it was hard enough to learn that his lungs were failing, but they couldn't believe it when a hospital robot entered his room and they got the news through a doctor on the robot's video screen.

Quintana's granddaughter was in the ICU by his side, and she said at first the nurse came in.

"The nurse came around and said the doctor was going to make rounds and I thought 'OK, no big deal, I'm here,' " said Annalisia Wilharm.

A short time later, a robot arrived in the room. A doctor appeared on a video screen. Wilharm took cell phone video so she could show her mother and grandmother the test results. 

"When I took the video, I didn't realize all of this was going to unfold," she said. 

Over the robot's video screen, Wilharm says she and her grandfather learned that Quintana's lungs were failing and he did not have long to live. 

"You might niot make it home," the doctor said on the screen. 

Wilharm says that heartbreaking news hurt even more, delivered through a machine.

"Devastated. 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," Wilharm  said. 

Daughter Catherine Quintana says the family is also upset because her father had trouble hearing the doctor through the robot's speaker forcing Wilharm to relay the terrible news. 

"He's already has a problem hearing. so with that and everything he couldn't hear very well. She had to repeat everything the doctor was saying," Wilharm said.

The Quintana family says they hope this never happens to another family.

"We offer our sincere condolences," said Kaiser Permanente Senior Vice-President Michelle Gaskill-Hames in a written statement, "We use video technology as an appropriate enhancement to the care team, and a way to bring additional consultative expertise to the bedside."

Catherine Quintana said she and her mother asked hospital staff about how the robot was used.

"It's policy, that's what we do now. That's what we were told," said Catherine Quintana. 

"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," said the Kaiser statement. 

Then Quintana family hopes Kaiser and any other hospitals with robots will review their policies and how they are integrating the technology into patients' care. Quintana ended up dying on Wednesday.

"I don't want this to happen to anyone else. It just shouldn't happen," Catherine Quintana said.

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Full Statement from Michelle Gaskill-Hames, Senior Vice President and Area Manager, Kaiser Permanente Greater Southern Alameda County:

"On behalf of Kaiser Permanente and our caregivers in Fremont, we offer our sincere condolences. It is always deeply painful to lose a beloved family member and friend. While we cannot comment on specifics of an individual's medical care due to privacy laws, we take this very seriously and have reached out to the family to discuss their concerns. 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. In every aspect of our care, and especially when communicating difficult information, we do so with compassion in a personal manner. 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."