The Case Of Jeanette And The Phone Call

The Case Of Jeanette And The Phone Call

Jeanette, an 80-year-old widow, called her physician early one morning complaining of shortness of breath. She spoke to the office receptionist who asked if she was having any other difficulty. Jeanette said no. The receptionist said she would give the message to the doctor. The doctor’s office was extremely busy that October day giving out flu shots. The receptionist immediately became busy answering tele-phone calls and admitting a long line of patients waiting for their annual flu shot. The telephone message from Jeanette was left unnoticed on the front office desk for several hours and was then placed on the physician’s desk with other messages. Jeanette became so exhausted from her shortness of breath that she fell asleep. When she awoke in the afternoon she could not catch her breath. She called her neighbor and just said, “Help.” Paramedics arrived at Jeanette’s home shortly after the neighbor called 911 and found Jeanette to be unresponsive. She was taken to the local emergency room where she was diagnosed and treated for pneumonia and congestive heart failure. The emergency room staff tried to determine who her personal physician was, but Jeanette had no personal belongings or medical information with her. She never regained consciousness and died that evening. When her neighbor went over to Jeanette’s home that evening to feed the cat, she noticed the light on the phone’s answering machine. The doctor had returned Jeanette’s call at 5:00 P.M. She apologized for not calling sooner.


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  1. Do you believe that this case presents a legal or an ethical problem or both?
  2. In your opinion, is anyone at fault for Jeanette’s death?
  3. Is the physician at fault? Is anyone on the physician’s staff at fault?
  4. What could have been done to prevent this problem?