Public or private patient?

A woman with abdominal pain came to a public hospital’s emergency department. It was found that she needed to have surgery to remove her appendix.

After it had been confirmed that the woman had private health insurance, the emergency department rang a surgeon and it was decided that this surgeon would operate on the woman the following morning.

There was also a discussion with the hospital, in which it was agreed that the woman would be admitted as a private patient because this would guarantee that the surgeon would operate on her, rather than a registrar or intern.

The woman signed paperwork for both public and private admission, and was placed in a public ward while hospital staff unsuccessfully tried to obtain a private hospital bed for her.

The following morning, the woman briefly met with the surgeon while waiting for her operation, but did not ask him whether he would be operating because of the earlier confirmation that he would do so.

After surgery, the woman was taken to the public ward and later visited by the registrar and intern. It emerged that the registrar had operated on her.

The woman complained to the Commission that she had been misled about who would operate on her.

In its response to this complaint, the Area Health Service acknowledged that there had been a serious breakdown in communication between health staff. This highlighted the need for clear communication between the emergency department and the treating team regarding the expectations of the patient and their choice of surgeon.

The Area Health Service apologised to the woman and said that it had reinforced the importance of clear communication with its staff. The woman was satisfied with this apology and the action taken by the hospital.

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Read more about how the Commission was able to assist people with their health care concerns.