Physicians must ensure hearing-impaired patients understand their options

September 1, 2011

Mr. Eye, who was hearing impaired, was to be scheduled for Mohs micrographic surgery. Unfortunately, before his surgery he became ill and did not recover, nor did he return to Dr. Skin's office for six months. Unfortunately, Dr. Skin's staff had forgotten about Mr. Eye's hearing impairment. They took his lack of response as senility consistent with his age. Dr. Skin chose to use only palliative treatment while watching the carcinoma invade Mr. Eye's orbit over the next year.

Key Points

The children brought him to Dr. Skin's office, making it perfectly clear that their dad was lucid and wanted the best of care. Mr. Eye's children explained to Dr. Skin and his staff that their father was hearing impaired and all conversations with him would need to take this impairment into account.

Mr. Eye was to be scheduled for Mohs micrographic surgery. Unfortunately, before his surgery he became ill and did not recover, nor did he return to Dr. Skin's office for six months.

Dr. Skin chose to use only palliative treatment while watching the carcinoma invade Mr. Eye's orbit over the next year. Mr. Eye's children were horrified. Had the staff only provided an assisted hearing device, Mr. Eye - who was still very lucid - would have made perfectly clear that he wanted aggressive treatment. Instead, he now requires an exenteration of his eyes.

What is Dr. Skin's liability for not having provided an assisted hearing device to his patient? Dr. Skin is a top-notch dermatologist who easily could have provided such assistance, yet nothing was done.