Besides researchers, In the US, who is allowed access to a person's Protected Health Information (tm) after they're dead? Who can get their death certificate (listing cause of death)? If these people aren't me, what can I do to cope with feeling that a loved one died because of someone's uncaring/ineptitude/etc?
posted by anonymous to food & drink (9 answers total)
I would like to access my grandmother's records to know why she was released from the hospital when she was. I'm not the executor of her will or her husband (still living). Nobody had been given power of attorney for her before she died. Is this something I can legally find out? I am in the US, but I don't want to say which state.
So here's the story: Grandma, who hadn't been in the hospital in decades (so was not quite a sickly-old-person yet), goes in for an acute, sudden onset condition that, while it can quite possibly take you out the moment it happens, if it does not, can be treated and fixed, and prevented from reocurring in the future. Think heart attack or aneurism but more along the lines of "since you lived through it, we'll put you on meds from here on out so we know this won't happen again."
She goes in to the hospital, and the doctor says, in my presence, that she will receive an IV drip of Drug A for 3 to 5 days, and will be given drug B in pill form from then on. He says that she will have to be observed for at least 24 hours after going on Drug B, so she won't be going home until she's finished her IV and taken the Drug B pill. He tells us we're looking at 6 to 7 days before she goes home.
About 4 days after her admission, the same doctor comes in and asks her if she wants to go home. She's had some serious issues with dementia and it's questionable whether she truly grasps that she's not at home in the first place (None of the ever-changing shifts of nurses, nurses-aides or doctors seem to really grasp that she has dementia either, especially since she she still talks a good game. We kept telling the nurses, and they would ask her questions that would clearly demonstrate profound disorientation to time and place, but we often never saw the same person twice - this was over a holiday weekend, probably making things worse than normal). She's felt fine since they started her on Drug A 4 days ago, so, naturally, she says "Sure." They disconnect the IV from her and send her home with my even older grandpa. We're all pretty suprised and confused, but assume the doctor knows what's best.
She goes home feeling really good, the next morning wakes up and takes Drug B. She starts feeling bad, and spends the entire day feeling worse and worse. Eventually my grandfather calls an ambulance for her and she dies shortly thereafter, that same evening. One day after being released from the hospital. My grandpa never, at any point, connects the symptoms she's having with the new drug she's taking. I feel that he's absolutely blameless in this regard. I can't question him about it, but he'd have done anything for her, and took action to have her seen to even while they were at home that day. Nobody's apparently making that connection. He may have even forgotten that she took that new medicine that morning. He's *really* old and just flat out doing the best he can at all times.
I work in a medical-type field. After her funeral I return to work and relate the events (and I was not suspicious - I had been entirely focused on the fact *that* my grandma had died, not at all *why* - I couldn't even immediately answer what she'd died of, no one had said - it was in the answering of my coworkers' questions, them asking her symptoms, etc., that dots became connected), and the resounding response from my coworkers, including multiple doctors, is that Drug B killed her. The doctors I work with said that it's pretty questionable to prescribe something as "nasty" - in one doctor friend's words - as Drug B to a person with dementia in the first place. The dosage is tricky, and she should have been observed while taking it. It's easy for Drug B to do you in without proper precautions.
So here's the kicker. Most of my family has decided, and pretty firmly believes, that the doctor surely found something terribly wrong with grandma, like cancer or something, and "sent her home to die". My grandfather and mother, etc. were telling people this at the visitation, even mentioning cancer specifically, when visitors sort of gently asked what happened. I very strongly feel that if they believe this, then it's best for them to continue on doing so. I know that this is not how hospitals operate. I feel that it's not possible that this is what has happened. But whatever brings them peace is 100% good. I don't want to arouse even the slightest suspicion with them.
So anyhow, I'm in a situation where I cannot consult my family at all about this ... But I'm really bothered by the situation and would like to know simply *why* she was released from the hospital so much earlier than planned. Did insurance (medicare) run out? Did they stop caring about her? Did they screw her charts up with another patient's? Did they need her bed? Can I find these things out? Can I find out what they listed her cause of death as? If a hospital is not really positive why someone dies (and they never told anything specific to the people present at the time of her death), and nobody wants an autopsy, what do they put on the death certificate? Nobody in the family really seems to know what she died of at all. Nobody's wondering, either. She was quite old, to be sure, although feeling quite spry until the end. It's as though the family thinks she was killed by some 24-hour cancer.
I've been really suprised at how deeply affected I've been by not knowing the answer to that simple question. The feeling that someone didn't seem care at all about someone so precious to me is just heartbreaking. It's been weeks and I'm in tears every day about it.
She was my grandmother, she was old and I'm an adult, and I understand I'm supposed to really quickly get over it. Some time has passed, and I don't feel comfortable mentioning it at work to ask about it anymore. But it's gnawing at me even more as time goes on.
Please note that no matter what, I'm not trying to sue a doctor or hospital or hold anyone "responsible" for anything. I'm not even looking to write a nasty letter. Nothing of that sort would make me feel better, anyways. She's gone, and nothing will bring her back - I'm just thinking I can somehow gain some peace of mind by knowing what happened to her. And wondering if I can find out without involving anyone else from my family, who've found their peace of mind elsewhere.
I'd love any other advice as well. "Just get over it" won't help much; I've been trying that unsuccessfully.