HIMSS: Dennis Quaid Calls On Health-Care Modernization To Eliminate Errors

"I am not a doctor. Not only am I not involved in IT, but I can barely do e-mail and recently discovered texting," Quaid said. "So why am I here?"

From there, the actor's tone shifted dramatically, recounting a stretch of 41 hours he described as the most "frightening of my life."

"I had heard my share of hospital horror stories, but mostly secondhand," Quaid said. "I had faith that I was in a safe place. Little did I know how dangerous a hospital can be. And I'm not denigrating doctors and nurses and hospital staff. If anything, they're overworked and underappreciated."

On Nov. 8, 2007, Quaid and his wife Kimberly welcomed twins, Thomas Boone and Zoe Grace. Ten days later, Quaid recounted, he and Kimberly brought the twins to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to be treated for staph infections.

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Over the course of that evening on Nov. 18, hospital staff at Cedars-Sinai mistakenly administered a dosage of the blood thinner Heparin 1,000 times the necessary dose for babies.

"They gave our children 10,000 units of Heparin. And this all happened while my wife and I were in the room. The [drug] turned their blood to the consistency of water. The next morning, a group of nurses came in and injected another 10,000 units," said Quaid, to audible gasps in the crowd.

About an hour-and-a-half later, Quaid continued, "Kimberly had a sense of dread. It was a mother's intuitive certainty. This did not make sense to me, because I'm a man, but to calm her fear I put her through to the babies' room."

What the Quaids found out when they returned to the hospital the next morning was exactly how much of an incorrect dosage their newborns had been given. As doctors and nurses worked throughout the day to stabilize the Quaid twins, the babies were "bleeding out of every place they'd been poked," Quaid said, and while they survived, "we have no way of knowing what the long-term effects could be."

Quaid called the error a "system failure," a lack of oversight, technological or otherwise, that combined with human error created a dangerous situation.

As it happened, Quaid demonstrated with photos, the labels on 10-unit and 10,000-unit Heparin bottles were nearly identical, one light blue and the other dark blue. In May 2008, Quaid and his wife sued Heparin manufacturer Baxter Healthcare, claiming the packaging was not sufficiently distinguishable.

An interoperable health-care system running on up-to-date technology would make the difference, the actor argued, and be the "backup" that an exhausted caregiver workforce needs. He described hospitals as a link in a chain, from manufacturer to hospital to insurance company to doctor to "finally, the patient, the most important person in the chain."

"It's time for the medical industry to do what the airline industry figured out about technology a long time ago," Quaid said. "But when a plane crashes, it makes news around the world. Their business is based on public confidence, and if they don't have public confidence, they're out of business. There is a staggering number of medical errors each year that go unnoticed by the general public. One hundred thousand people die every year because of medical errors."

Quaid called upon everyone with a stake in health-care IT to make an interoperable electronic health network a reality, and not waste the opportunities presented by the health-care IT investment in the federal stimulus.

"You know much better than I do that the technology is ready," Quaid said. "We need leadership to adopt the technology. The patient is the customer: He should know what he is getting and how much it costs. We, as patients, can become empowered at our point of care. There is money in the [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] to make this happen. Let's make sure the money is spent wisely."