Proponents of so-called “tort reform” would have you believe that doctors are now engaged in “defensive medicine” – ordering scores of unnecessary tests simply to avoid the threat of lawsuits. Our medical malpractice attorneys are always puzzled when we hear such claims, as the evidence does not support claims that doctors regularly engage in this practice.
Now, a new review of twenty years of studies of patient care casts further doubt upon these specious claims. One must wonder: how can ordering tests protect doctors from lawsuits or liability when the results of those tests are never reviewed, or passed along to the patient?
The new review, published in the latest edition of the BMJ Quality and Safety Journal, was conducted by a team of researchers out of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The researchers look at twelve studies over two decades (from 1990 to 2010). Eight of these twelve studies were performed in the United States.
After reviewing all the available evidence, the authors concludes that “There is evidence to suggest that the proportion of missed test results is a substantial problem, which impacts on patient safety.”
An understatement at best.
Indeed, as our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys are unfortunately aware, it is all too common for a crucial test to be ordered, then ignored. So the authors concluded, with patients with test results ranging from STDs to cancer, from stomach ulcers to endocarditis never learning of their test results, or being given a diagnosis by any physician. In many cases, these ignored results and missed diagnoses meant the patient’s wrongful death.
The review noted that the problem of missed test results was present in all forms of record-keeping: it does not matter whether the doctors, labs, and hospitals involved used old-fashioned written communications or high-tech electronic systems. But the extent of the problem did vary depending on the movements of the patient. Test results were far more likely to be missed when a patient was discharged from their hospital ward while the tests were pending. Likewise, test results were far more likely to fall through the cracks when patients transitioned from one setting to another, such as from inpatient to outpatient care, or from the hospital to follow-up with a primary care physician.
The results of the various studies did fall in a wide range, but up to 61 percent of inpatient test results, and up to 75 percent of emergency test results, were not followed up after a patient was discharged.
These shocking figures are obviously unacceptable. When a physician orders a test, there is an obvious presumption that the results of that test are important to a patient’s care. The failure to follow-up, inform a patient of her diagnosis, and ensure that she is receiving proper care, is almost certainly medical negligence, and may well be compensable in a civil action.
But it is far better to avoid the problem in the first place. Patients and their families should be proactive in their own care, ensuring that they know what tests have been ordered and why, and following up with their doctors and hospitals if they are not informed of the results of those tests. While this is the responsibility of the physician, it is obviously preferable for a patient to avoid a missed diagnosis by following up herself, and thus save herself from further injury.
Our top medical malpractice attorneys thus recommend that our readers be assertive in managing their own healthcare. But if that is not enough, and your physician or hospital does permit key results to go unheeded, you may have a legal claim for the damages you suffered.
For a Free Consultation with a top-rated Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.