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Diagnostic Testing Communication Problems Lead to Malpractice

A story in today’s Clinical Advisor discussed an issue which we touched on last week-communication problems between clinicians and diagnostic testing professionals. Many are aware that flawed reading of diagnostic tests and inadequate use of diagnostic tests are commonly at the root of medical malpractice claims. Put another way, medical malpractice lawsuits are often filed after a patient is not diagnosed in a timely manner for a certain ailment because their doctor didn’t order tests that should have been ordered or misread a test.

Yet, a new report in the Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR) suggests another way in which medical professionals error in the testing process. Specifically, the report found that there are frequently communication breakdowns involving how those test results are conveyed. Analyzing a large amount of data over a nearly twenty year period in the National Practitioner Data Bank-from 1991 to 2010-the researchers found that claims related to these communication errors rose significantly. The specific problems most often included a delay in the receipt of the test results and particularly long turnaround times for certain test findings.

This particular problem needs to be distinguished from more common forms of delayed diagnosis or failure to diagnose claims. In more cases than not, these suits are rooted in negligence on the part of the patient’s personal doctor. The classic case is one where a patient visits a professional with certain problems only to have the doctor not conduct the tests that a reasonable doctor would. Had the doctor conducted those tests he would have uncovered a serious underlying problem, (i.e. cancer). Months and even years can go by before the problem is uncovered. That time delay often has significant impact on the patients’ ability to recover. In the case of cancer, failure to treat it early can literally be the difference between life and death. When this occurs, the problem is essentially based in the decision-making of the individual physician who did not act appropriately resulting in missed treatment time. One of our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys actually just concluded a case with a local resident who suffered this exact injury. She visited a physician for nearly two years before being diagnosed with a particularly aggressive cancer. Records indicated that had the doctor acted as other prudent doctors would have upon hearing the client’s initial symptoms, the cancer would have been diagnosed right away, she would have had two years more treatment, and her ultimate prognosis would have been much more optimistic.

Conversely, the problem discussed in this JACR report has the some outcome for the patient-delayed treatment-but the cause is more systematic than incompetence. In these situations the doctors themselves do not necessary make poor medical decisions. Instead, the facilities have unacceptable procedural problems. The story notes that the problem could be attributable to a variety of issues. For one thing, a surge in testing capabilities may not have kept pace with notification reliability. It is necessary for these developments to improve simultaneously, as better testing is only as good as it can be shared, understood, and fit into actual notification systems.

In Other News: This blog and our companion blog–Illinois Injury Lawyer Blog–were nominated for inclusion as one of the Top 25 Tort Blogs of 2011. The award is part of the LexisNexis project which seeks to feature blogs that set the standard in certain practice areas and industries. The voting to narrow down the field is currently underway, and we would love to have your vote. All you have to do is add a comment at the end of the post about the Top 25 bogs.

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See Our Related Blog Posts:

Cancer Misdiagnosis Leads to Illinois Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

Failure to Diagnose Cancer Leads to Lawsuit