Falling through the cracks: The tragic story of a life failed by the heathcare system

January 15, 2019 – Greg Price was a young, physically fit mechanical engineer living in Alberta when he first told his doctor he was concerned about one of his testicles during a routine medical examination. After some tests, the doctor said he didn’t see anything unusual and told Greg to come back in a year, or earlier if anything changed. A year later, in early 2012, Greg visited his doctor again and after examining him, the doctor suggested that Greg see a specialist. The doctor wrote a referral and assumed the examination would take place soon. Greg didn’t hear from the specialist until 93 days later when his testicular cancer had already spread to his abdomen. This would be one of many missteps during Greg’s short, tragic journey through the Alberta health care system.

Greg died a little more than three months after his doctor said he should see a specialist. During that short period of time, he was passed between eleven different doctors with very little, or no, communication between them. He was told time and again to sit tight, that they would be in touch soon, and then never hear anything. When he finally went in for surgery to remove his testicle, the surgeon questioned Greg as to why it had taken him so long to get the procedure, placing the burden on the patient’s shoulders rather than on the system.  Greg died three days after his surgery, mere hours after being sent home by Dr. #11 who brushed off Greg and his father Dave’s concerns about his swollen legs and increased abdominal pain.

Photo: Greg Price

Greg’s unexpected and sudden death resulted in the Continuity of Patient Care Study Report published by the Health Quality Council of Alberta. The report outlines Greg’s case and found four breaks in continuity of care. Professor W. Ward Flemons was the Study Lead for the report and he developed a relationship of trust with Greg’s family, in spite of their frustrating interactions with the healthcare industry. At the time, Professor Flemons taught the importance of teamwork and communication to first year medical students at the University of Calgary and suggested that Greg’s family pursue telling Greg’s story through film. He thought a film could be a very effective and powerful learning tool for his students. Greg’s family worked with a talented production team, including a director and actor from CBC’s Heartland, to create the short film Falling Through the Cracks: Greg’s Story.

“When we initially agreed to the project, we had imagined that it had the potential to be an important teaching tool for future doctors,” says Greg’s sister Teri Price, “but because of the team that became involved in the film project and the quality of the short film, we now know the film can and will have an impact on audiences well beyond the medical school classroom.”

Teri is the Executive Director of Greg’s Wings Projects, a not-for-profit organization established in honour of her brother. Teri and the rest of Greg’s family believe that Greg would want something positive to come out of this sad story. They have screened the film to over 130 audiences and hope to continue to reach as many people as possible. Their hope is the film will inspire improvements in the healthcare system with fewer lives being lost.

“Every time a plane crashes, it makes front page headlines,” says Professor Michael W. Carter who teaches healthcare engineering at the University of Toronto’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE),”but [the health care system is] killing way more people.”

Professor Carter is the former director of the Centre for Research in Healthcare Engineering, now called the Centre for Healthcare Engineering, and teaches engineering students about how to improve healthcare information and communication systems. He first saw Falling Through the Cracks when Teri and Dave screened the film at U of T’s Faculty of Medicine. He knew he wanted to show the film to his MIE students as he sees many of the issues in the healthcare system as engineering questions. “I’m a firm believer that real change doesn’t come through educating individuals,” says Professor Carter, “real change comes from changing the system.”

MIE will host a screening of Falling Through the Cracks followed by a panel discussion on Tuesday, January 29 at 12 pm. The panel will include Teri and Dave Price, Professor Carter, Professor Ross Baker from U of T’s Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation and Dr. Michael Rachlis from U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Posted by Pam Walls, January 15, 2019

© 2024 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering