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Doctors Overlooking Test Results

Doctors run thousands of tests daily to help diagnose patients' ailments. The results of these tests allow medical professionals to decide on a course of care for their patient. All too often the test results are "missed" for a variety of reasons. X-ray or lab technicians fail to send test results to doctors, doctors neglect to examine the tests carefully, or they fail to notify their patients about the results. For many illnesses these "missed" test results cause a delay in getting treatment that could cure a patient's health problem. When doctors fail to act on test results, it may have tragic consequences.

Failing to Diagnose a Patient's Medical Problems

When a patient is sent for a test or x-ray, everyone in the process has to do their job. The lab has to do the test and send it to the doctor, and the doctor must pay attention and read the results! If this doesn't happen patients can be harmed because they don't get the treatment they need.

Medical malpractice insurers know the dangers of a missed or failed diagnosis. One insurance company, Crico/RMF, examined over 1100 malpractice claims from 2005 to 2009. Over 450 of the claims were "high severity" which meant the patient was seriously injured or died. Roughly half of these cases involved a diagnostic error of some type. Using these results, insurers are encouraging a course or action that will try to keep doctors and physicians ahead of any problems that may arise.

For instance, hospitals are starting to implement plans to prevent test results from going unnoticed. Doctors receive all test results, no matter what the test determines. Doctors must "sign off" on receiving the tests, and then inform patients of the results. The patients are contacted regardless of whether the test results are normal or abnormal. The consultation with the patient is recorded by the hospital or health care facility. Additionally, patients are encouraged to make contact with their treating physician if they have not received any information after a certain time period.

Using Electronic Medical Records - Will it Help?

Hospitals are also turning to electronic health records to track patient information. When a test is ordered, that information gets entered into the patient's chart electronically. The test data is then also placed into the electronic record, and the doctor receives an alert that indicates the test is complete. Doctors can then enter the results of the test into the patient file, and the information will be available to other medical professionals and health care facilities if the patient visits other practitioners.

One of the reasons behind the trend toward electronic health records is to cut down on the number of "missed" test results. Tests that one physician may miss will be readily available to other doctors later in the course of treatment. Also, patient allergies or other issues that require monitoring will be available no matter where the patient seeks treatment.

But even electronic medical records are not foolproof. Doctors may not enter information on time, since updating the records is very time consuming. Additionally, it appears that even electronic records are sometimes not read. A study at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Baylor College of Medicine examined the system in which doctors received alerts indicating the need for further follow-up. Doctors ignored these alerts 18 percent of the time! Nearly eight percent of the alerts did not receive timely analysis, which could be extremely harmful to patients in emergency situations.

What You Can Do to Help Yourself

Taking proactive steps in your treatment can help you in the event that you have a serious illness. If you are sent for blood work, x-rays or any other test, be sure to follow up with your physician! Do not necessarily assume no news is good news. If you haven't heard from the doctor, call and ask for test results. Also, if you are uncomfortable with the opinion of your doctor, or if you feel that your physician has not performed a thorough examination, do not be afraid to seek another opinion. If you feel that you have an illness that was made worse by a lapse in medical care, speak with an experienced attorney in your area to learn about any potential medical malpractice claims that you may have.

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