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Diagnostic Communication Problems Can Have Deadly Consequences

Patients usually visit medical professionals for one of two reasons: either they are having a routine check-up or they are experiencing some sort of health problem and they want help fixing it. In both cases, diagnostic tools are one of the centerpieces of that care. Diagnostics simply refers to testing and examination done, often in an effort to help medical professionals specifically identify a problem. Some of the most common diagnostic tests include x-rays, CT scans, and similar tools that allow medical professionals to look closely at certain parts of the patient’s body. The importance of diagnostic tools means that when they are mishandled, they often lead to severe harm to the patients-occasionally resulting in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Unfortunately, there remain many problems with diagnostics in some medical settings, in particular as it relates to communication between diagnostic professionals and other doctors. As a new report from Fierce Healthcare explained, failure to timely and efficiently communicate clinical diagnostic testing data continues to lead to instances of medical malpractice. A study on the topic was recently published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR) found that the problem had increased over the past decade and a half.

The problem stems from communication failures between the diagnostic physician-such as a radiologist-and the referring clinicians. If the radiologist notices an urgent or unexpected result, then he has a duty to timely notify the referring doctor of the problem. At times, that communication breaks down. When that occurs, doctors and patients do not receive the results at all or it is delayed. Obviously, there can be significant medical consequences when those communication breakdowns occur. Time is often of the essence when it comes to medical treatment-being able to provide appropriate care at the earliest possible moment is often the difference between life and death.

Researchers into diagnostic communication breakdowns explain that there are three forms of care lapses. The results might be lost completely, delayed, or there may be an unnecessary long turnaround times. When that occurs in our area, each of those situations may be a sign of Illinois medical malpractice. As our Illinois medical malpractice attorneys can explain, the law of negligence applies to physicians just as it does the rest of society. As such they are charged with acting reasonably at all times, and that includes providing reasonably timely diagnostic reports so that proper medical care can be given.

It is important for all physicians to understand the diagnostic communication problem and take systematic steps to minimize their occurrence. One assistant professor of radiology interviewed for the story recommended that medical centers institute tests to prevent communication lapses. He explained that a semi-automated critical test management system has been shown to improve these notification issues and work flow problems. As a result, patient safety is ultimately improved. At the end of the day, patient safety is what matter. The pressure placed upon medical facilities via the civil justice system when their care lapses is an important factor leading to these and other recommended changes.

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