Cataracts Lead to Diagnostic Errors

The Globe and Mail is reporting on the source of a series of diagnostic errors at a hospital in Windsor Ontario contained in an internal report the paper obtained through a Freedom of Information request. The errors relate to findings in pathology reports authored by Dr. Olive Williams.

Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor caught four of the errors before any harm was done, but the report said a fifth patient had an unnecessary colostomy because of an incorrect cancer diagnosis made by Dr. Williams. A sixth patient is cited who is said to have received an incorrect lumpectomy.

Dr. Williams is at the centre of a probe into pathology tests she conducted at all three hospitals in Windsor. Investigators appointed by Ontario Ministry of Health are to release their findings at the end of the week which should revel more details of the problems connected with the pathology reports.

Hôtel-Dieu suspended Dr. Williams on Jan. 4 after launching its own review. The newspaper reports that in an internal report dated February 16 titled Issues And Key Messages, the hospital informed its Local Health Integration Network, or LHIN, it had uncovered six “known cases” of errors made by Dr. Williams. These errors in part are ascribed to what the report describes as a physical issue with Dr. Williams. She had cataracts. These supposedly interfered with her vision thus affecting her ability to make pathology findings.

The hospital previously announced on Feb. 24 that it had suspended an unnamed pathologist on Jan. 4, after discovering errors in pathology reports. Two days later, the hospital identified Dr. Williams by name, adding that about 15,000 reports on patients are under review and the 3,500 “highest risk” ones will be reviewed first.

The public first heard about problems at Hôtel-Dieu after a publicized case involving Laurie Johnston, whose healthy breast was removed by Barbara Heartwell, another doctor at the hospital.

According to the newspaper in its Feb. 16 internal report to the LHIN, the hospital stated a local television station was working on a story about Ms. Johnston. It said it planned to issue a statement about Dr. Heartwell but added it would reveal nothing about Dr. Williams until it knew the full scope of the problem. The hospital wanted to review a sampling of charts before making any public pronouncement that might alarm the public.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is investigating both doctors.

The newspaper article states that the report to the LHIN does not mention a cancer patient Dr. Williams misdiagnosed in January, 2007, three years before she was suspended.  According to the newspaper the College of Physicians and Surgeons reprimanded Dr. Williams in January, 2009, for misdiagnosing Margaret Musgrave, who later died of cancer. Apparently Dr. Williams wrote on Jan. 6, 2009 to the College, saying “I sincerely apologize for my part in not picking up this tumour at onset. This letter was not sent to Hôtel-Dieu according to the newspaper sources.

Unfortunately errors made by pathologists can have devastating consequences. We have seen this in a number of cases that we are actively prosecuting at this time. If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of pathology malpractice or negligence then visit our free medical case evaluation page for more information.

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