I’m a stickler for being on time. But every now and then life gets in the way, and we end up being a little late for a doctor’s appointment. It’s rare, but when it does happen, I call to let the office know that we’ll still be there.
Like me, this is exactly what Shanice Clark did after picking up her 5-year-old asthmatic child, Ellie-May, early from school. The school felt that Ellie-May’s asthma was deteriorating. For people with asthma, being seen by the doctor right away is extremely important. According to the BBC, Clark made an emergency appointment with Ellie-May’s doctor, Joanne Rowe, M.D. Given only a short time to get to the office, Clark knew that they would be a few minutes late and contacted the office to let them know. But when she got to the office just four minutes late, her daughter was turned away and did not receive any care.
Upon returning home, Clark had to call the emergency responders when Ellie-May suffered a seizure and stopped breathing. Ellie-May was taken to the hospital but later died from her asthma complications, and the physician who turned her away is currently under investigation.
When I first read this story, I cried for Ellie-May and her family because, let’s be honest, there is no good reason why this precious child died. Moreover, this could easily have been anyone of us who has an asthmatic child. So, what can those of us dealing with asthma learn from this tragedy?
- Be sure to always have an Asthma Action Plan and rescue medications readily available in case of an emergency.
- Learn your doctor’s office’s policies about being late. Do they turn people away? How late is too late?
- If you or your child is having an asthma emergency (whether turned away from the doctor’s office or not) head to the emergency room or dial 911. The ER has additional equipment and medications available to treat serious asthma complications. The faster the treatment, the better the outcome.
Though not the issue with the Clarks, many physician’s offices do have problems with patients who are habitually late, sometimes up to an hour or more. In those instances, there are policies that a doctor’s office may need to put in to place to limit perpetual tardiness.
One of the best suggestions I have seen is from Physician’s Practice. They advise not turning the patient away as it could lead to a case of malpractice. However, they have a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule of sorts. If you are late or a no-show to an appointment, you will be sent a policy statement informing you that, after three incidents, you will have to find a new physician. The statement ensures that the patient’s urgent need for care is not ignored but also protects the office from having to continually accommodate patients who are always late, or who don’t show up at all.
It is impossible to understand how being a few minutes late to an appointment could lead to the loss of a child’s life. We all try to be on time to our appointments, but when you are dealing with a serious condition like asthma, it’s important to know what to do when you are late or perhaps even turned away. Hopefully we can prevent another senseless tragedy like the Clark family has had to endure. They will most definitely be in my thoughts and prayers.
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Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.