An emergency ward doctor with Taipei City Hospital’s Renai Branch was sentenced to eight months in jail yesterday for “professional negligence” for failing to prevent the death of a patient from a heart attack in 2006.
In its ruling, the Taipei District Court said the doctor, surnamed Lin (林), missed an opportunity to adequately treat the patient in time and should be held partly accountable for the patient’s death.
After the patient, surnamed Chang (張), was admitted to the emergency ward of the Renai Branch suffering from chest pain, sweating and shoulder and neck pain, Lin gave Chang an electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood tests to diagnose the problem.
Based on the test results, he decided to prescribe nitroglycerin, which widens blood vessels and can stop heart attacks, while continuing to observe the patient.
However, after Chang continued to complain of chest pain after taking the medicine, Lin ordered a more extensive 12-lead ECG check on the patient, which showed abnormalities.
The doctor then ordered a second 12-lead ECG that was scheduled for six hours later, while keeping Chang in the hospital for observation.
It was not until the patient had a seizure and fell into a coma that Lin called in cardiologists to offer an advanced diagnosis and to treat Chang — to no avail — leading the court to rule that Lin failed to adequately monitor Chang’s situation.
In his defense, the doctor said that he had conducted blood tests and ECG checks on Chang according to standard procedure, and that it was very difficult to determine at that point that Chang had suffered from myocardial infarction.
He also said he ordered nurses to check in on Chang every 30 minutes and called for help from cardiologists after concluding Chang had suffered a heart attack.
However, the court said anyone complaining of chest pain in an emergency ward should be categorized as a “priority” patient entitled to close monitoring and treatment by doctors, a standard that Lin did not meet.
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