When lab, imaging, or other test results are not followed up, the outcome can be tragic.
According to The Joint Commission, diagnostic error impacts one in every 20 adult patients in outpatient settings and may be the most frequent medical error plaguing the practice of medicine in this country. Johns Hopkins Medicine defines diagnostic error as “a diagnosis that is missed, wrong, or delayed, as detected by some subsequent definitive test or finding.” The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine), describes diagnostic error as “the failure to establish an accurate and timely explanation of the patient’s health problem or communicate that explanation to the patient.”
Too common are stories of patients who dutifully present for lab, imaging, or other diagnostic tests. A patient has an expectation that they will be notified in a timely way if there is further need for follow up and assumes that no news is good news. This type of thinking is sadly mistaken.
Diagnostic tests are only as good as the process within which testing is ordered, produced, reviewed, routed, and acted upon. Just some of the errors that can occur in a poorly functioning system include:
- Testing orders are not delivered to a patient, and diagnostic testing does not occur
- A patient presents for testing, and results are misplaced, or left without further review
- A radiologist or pathologist incorrectly interprets imaging or other samples and fails to flag the patient for further work-up
- Labs or imaging are marked for follow-up and sent to a central scheduling unit where the results are inadvertently lost, delayed, or deleted
- Diagnostic test results are forwarded to a provider other than the one who ordered the testing and no follow-up occurs
- Diagnostic tests are delivered to the office of the ordering physician which fails to flag the results to the physician
The Joint Commission points to diagnostic error and delays in delivering test results as a systemic issue. Delay in delivery of abnormal diagnostic results can easily lead to further injury, or unrecoverable disease. While electronic medical records (EMRs) were touted as a remedy for delayed and missed results, one study found that eight percent of abnormal outpatient test results relayed through an EMR were not followed by four weeks after the test.
Best practices recommended by the Joint Commission include a closed-loop communication plan. This process ensures each test result is transmitted, acknowledged, and utilized quickly, including being understandably explained to the patient.
If your diagnostic results “slipped through the cracks” and resulted in a serious delay in diagnosis, talk with our legal team about your situation.
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Schochor, Staton, Goldberg, and Cardea, P.A. has more than 37 years of successful experience representing clients and their families injured through medical negligence. When you suffer serious injury due to a delayed diagnosis or medical negligence in Baltimore, Washington, DC, or elsewhere in the US, we can help. Contact us or call 410-234-1000 to schedule a free consultation today.