Oftentimes when a patient visits their doctor or a hospital, a number of diagnostic tests are performed for a variety of reasons. The test results may be critically important to the health of the patient, but only if they are actually reviewed and correctly interpreted by their health professional.
What can happen when the test results are ignored by the doctor or other health professional? The results can be catastrophic.
First Example: Failure to Notify Patient of Mass Found on Chest X-Ray
Take, for instance, the following hypothetical (based on an actual case): A patient with chest pain visits her doctor, a cardiologist, who orders a routine chest x-ray before a planned cardiac catheterization. Unfortunately, due to the “routine” nature of the chest x-ray the cardiologist does not follow-up to review the x-ray images or radiology report, which revealed that the plaintiff had a sizeable mass in one of his lungs.
The radiologist who interpreted the x-ray recommended that the plaintiff undergo a follow-up CT scan to obtain further information about the mass — specifically to determine whether it was cancerous. However, the report was simply filed away and the patient was never notified of the results. More than a year later, the patient developed a cough and was examined by his family doctor, who asked the plaintiff if he had any older X-rays for comparison. When the plaintiff then returned to pick up a copy of his X-ray at the office of the cardiologist, the cardiologist noticed the report for the first time, and he told the plaintiff then — for the first time — to get a CT scan. The tumor had doubled in size by that time, and the plaintiff had his lung removed shortly afterward, and was at increased risk of sudden death.
This is an obvious case of medical malpractice against the cardiologist (and potentially the hospital or other doct0rs) for failing to follow-up with X-ray results that resulted in a delayed diagnosis of the tumor.
This case illustrates a fairly common problem, which is that patients frequently have studies like chest X-rays or ECGs that may be obtained for a specific purpose, or in the emergency room. If a doctor orders a study, he or she is responsible for following up, even if the study shows something that is not relevant to the patient’s immediate problem. Sometimes a doctor will review a study quickly, for example, in the emergency department to rule out a fracture, and they may miss another problem that is not part of the current differential diagnosis. Most hospitals have a policy that all ECGs are read by cardiologists and X-rays are read by radiologists, but this may happen long after you leave the ER or the clinic. However, the radiologist or cardiologist dictates a formal report and sends it to the doctor who ordered the test. That doctor is responsible for following up the results, and if there is additional treatment or a further study required, the doctor who ordered the test is responsible for informing you.
Second Example: Failure to Follow-Up on Abnormal Electrocardiogram (ECG) Suggestive of Blood Clot
Take another common example (also based on an actual case): A patient is seen in the ER after he went to his family doctor with shortness of breath and chest pain. An X-ray and an electrocardiogram (ECG) were obtained in the ER, and the doctor in the ER unfortunately did not check his interpretation against the official interpretation, which showed the patient had a probable blood clot in his lungs. The ER doctor then ordered an echocardiogram, but no one took the call from the cardiologist, who also noticed evidence of a blood clot in the lungs. This patient dies from a blood clot after spending 20 hours in the hospital, because no one followed up his tests. Another clear case of medical negligence.
Most Emergency Departments have a system set up to let patients know of abnormal blood test results that come back from the laboratory hours or days after the patient is discharged. Despite checks and balances, these reports sometimes get lost in the shuffle, resulting in untreated illnesses that may have a significant negative impact on the patient’s health. If you have tests done in the ER or in your clinic, it’s important to be certain you always follow up on the test results.
If you or a loved one has not received the critical results of a diagnostic test until long after the test was done, and you have a medical condition that has deteriorated as a result, you probably have some recourse under the law. Call a top Chicago malpractice attorney at Passen & Powell today at 312-527-4500 for a review of your case.