California man told he was dying by doctor via video link

SAN FRANCISCO • A septuagenarian Californian learnt of his impending death through a video link, outraging his family, who protested against the dehumanised and robotic way in which the news was delivered.

Mr Ernest Quintana received the news last Monday at a hospital in Fremont, California, when a doctor appeared on screen in a video call and told him.

He died the following day.

A family friend wrote in a Facebook post: "That Robot Dr may be OK for some situations but not to tell a man he is going to die."

The Facebook post included a screenshot of a video taken by the patient's granddaughter, Ms Annalisia Wilharm.

Ms Wilharm was alone with her grandfather when the doctor remotely told Mr Quintana that his lungs were failing and he would not be going home.

"We knew that it was coming and that he was very sick, but I don't think somebody should get that news delivered that way. It should've been a human being come in," Ms Wilharm told local TV station KTVU.

As her grandfather had a hearing problem, she had to relay the news, KTVU reported.

The Kaiser Permanente Medical Centre, where Mr Quintana was being treated, responded in a statement carried by US media in which it offered condolences to the family, but disputed the characterisation that the news was delivered by "robot".

"The use of the term 'robot' is inaccurate and inappropriate. This secure video technology is a live conversation with a physician using tele-video technology, and always with a nurse or other physician in the room," said Kaiser Permanente.

"It does not, and did not, replace ongoing in-person evaluations and conversations with a patient and family members," the centre added.

"We regret falling short in meeting the patient and family's expectations in this situation and we will use this as an opportunity to review how to improve patient experience with tele-video capabilities."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2019, with the headline 'California man told he was dying by doctor via video link'. Print Edition | Subscribe