Thu | Nov 26, 2020

Withholding of medical records by hospitals hampering work of forensic pathologists

Published:Tuesday | January 21, 2020 | 6:10 AMNickoy Wilson/Gleaner Writer

Already faced with a potentially crippling workload, government employed forensic pathologists are accusing medical facilities of withholding or redacting portions of patients’ medical records, which they say could help them in arriving at a cause of death.

Forensic pathologist Dr Althea Neblett told The Gleaner in an interview last week that only one hospital gives them original medical records, while others photocopy portions that they believe are important.

“Apart from Kingston Public Hospital, we don’t actually get original dockets (medical records) from most institutions. We get copies, so that’s why I said that people try to filter what they think might be important for us to read, so we don’t always get everything. And you know how sometimes a doctor may document brief things and a nurse documents something else and they help fill in gaps,” said Neblett, who works at the government-run Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science.

She added, “So when someone decides that we only want to photocopy a doctor’s notes and leave out the nurses notes or the initial triage notes, everything is very important. So getting all the complete docket is important and sometimes it’s still missing things, but we can’t do anything about that, but we would like the full docket.”

Problem compounded

According to Neblett, the problem seems to be compounded by the inability of the police to help them in obtaining the full records.

“I always thought the police had the authority to seize anything as long as it is under the law, but I could be wrong. They always seem like they can’t do it, you know, we have to write a letter and we are like no you need to go get things,” the forensic pathologist said.

While forensic pathologists wrestle with hospitals to get medical records, a member of the profession Dr S L Prasad Kadiyala has had at times to employ creative means to get his job done.

“I always tell the police you’re acting on behalf of the coroner. Coroner is a judge. So once they request in writing, they have to give it. If they don’t give it, just take it to the coroner’s office they will give the proper letter of authorization where they have to give the docket. But even though there is some resistance, finally we find some other way to get the docket by withholding the post-mortem examination,” Prasad Kadiyala said.

When The Gleaner reached out to Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, he said he was not aware of the problem.

“No. I don’t know. No, I am not aware of this. If it comes to my attention I will investigate it and find out what is happening,” Tufton said.

Statistics on the types of cases dealt with by the Institute were not available.

nickoy.wilson@gleanerjm.com