Most people hold doctors in high esteem. We look up to them, and even sometimes assume they are infallible. While most doctors do have our best interest in mind, there are dangerous exceptions.
A recent study has revealed doctor negligence in regards to their patients’ lab or screening tests. The primary care clinicians and their staffs sometimes don’t inform patients of lab or screening results. They may also not keep records that they informed their patients which leaves them with no proof of acting in good faith.
Lawrence P. Casalino, MD, PhD, of Weill Cornell Medical College was the lead author of the study. He and his colleagues studied the medical records of 5,434 random patients between 50 and 69 years old from 23 primary care practices. They found that 7.1 percent of the primary care practices, or about one out of every 14 abnormal tests, failed to inform the patient of results, or failed to document that the patient was informed.
Here’s some further disconcerting news:
“Most [practices] did not have explicit rules for notifying patients of results,” say the researchers regarding those doctors in the study. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to estimate the failure-to-inform rate across a variety of tests and types of medical practice.”
While doctors are expected to be the ones to take action, these findings show that patients may have to take the initiative if they don’t hear any news in a timely manner.
“Patients need to ask their doctor the procedure for finding out test results,” says Atlanta internist Sandra Fryhofer, MD. “They also need to ask how long it will take for results to come back.”
So, what are the consequences of not receiving your medical test results?
The authors of the study say that test-reporting mistakes can lead to serious problems.
1. Diagnostic errors are a leading cause of malpractice suits. So, if the errors can be remedied, healthcare costs could be lowered.
2. An error in any one of these steps can have lethal consequences,” say the study’s authors. Art Hopkins, MD, an internist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York says that sometimes when busy internists don’t follow up with patients on future appointments, the patients don’t show up.
Missed appointments can lead to a missed diagnosis, or prescriptions, and hence further health complications. What may start off as a minor inconvenience could turn into a fatal mistake. So until the system is fixed, you need to stay on top of your own medical information. Ask for copies of all your medical tests!