Just about every doctor would agree that they have a responsibility to not only timely order appropriate medical tests for their patients based upon the patients’ medical conditions and the doctors’ professional judgment, but they also would agree that they have a professional obligation to timely and appropriate communicate abnormal, urgent, or unexpected findings from the medical tests to their patients so that the patients can receive the proper medical treatment in a timely fashion.
Medical diagnostic testing includes but is not limited to testing of blood or other bodily fluids from patients, testing of tissue samples (including biopsy materials), x-rays, MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), CT scans (computed tomography), ultrasound, etc.
Medical malpractice claims based on diagnostic testing communications failures typically fall into one of three categories: the failure of doctors and/or their patients to receive the test results; unexpected or inappropriate delays in reporting test results; or, long turnaround times between diagnostic testing and the receipt of the results of the diagnostic testing.
Doctors often have control over the time it takes to submit diagnostic testing for analysis (such as providing a vial of a patient’s blood to the lab for testing and analysis or the taking and reading of an x-ray taken in the doctor’s office by a radiologist) but doctors often have little or no control over the time it takes for the lab to report the testing analysis back to the doctor, even if the testing is performed on an urgent basis (the lab or the radiologist controls the release of the findings to the doctors).
Nonetheless, doctors have almost total control over the timing and manner in which diagnostic test results that they received are communicated to their patients: a doctor may schedule a return follow-up appointment with the patient at the time of the diagnostic testing on a date shortly after the anticipated receipt by the doctor of the test results or the doctor or a office staff member may contact the patient by telephone, email, fax, or otherwise to report back and discuss the significance of test results.
According to a recent study, the failure to timely communicate medical testing results represents an increasing proportion of medical malpractice claim payments being made, increasing by a factor of 1.7 from 1991 to 2009. Medical malpractice claims involving the three most common categories of communications failures increased from $21.7 million in 1991 to $91 million in 2010. Medical malpractice claims related to these communications failures have increased each year by an average of $4.7 million per year.
With the increasing availability of diagnostic testing and the increasing use of diagnostic testing, it can be expected that the number and proportion of medical malpractice claims based on diagnostic testing and communications failures regarding diagnostic testing results will continue to increase.
Is No News Necessarily Good News?
When it comes to medical testing results and the health and well-being of patients, the answer is not always “yes.” While doctors are responsible for ordering appropriate and timely medical testing for their patients, patients must also assume responsibility for their own medical care and safety. If a patient knows that his or her doctor performed a diagnostic test, or that a test was done pursuant to a doctor’s request, the patient must remain vigilant and contact his/her doctor in a timely fashion to obtain the diagnostic testing result if the doctor fails to report back the result when expected. Just because the doctor has not contacted the patient with test results does not mean that the results were nothing to be concerned about or do not indicate the need for further testing or treatment. Patients may help their own doctors avoid a potential medical malpractice claim (and protect themselves from harm) by inquiring about test results if they do not hear back from their doctors after a reasonable period of time.
It is also a good idea for patients to request a copy of the written test results (such as lab reports or the written reports from radiologists) so that the patients have the records in their possession if there is a need for another doctor in the future to have the results of the tests or if there is something in the test report itself that needs clarification or follow-up.
If doctors fail to review diagnostic test results, or fail to timely and appropriately communicate to their patients the results of medical testing (or fail to arrange appropriate follow-up or specialized medical care based on the test results, when necessary), then the doctors may become the defendants in medical malpractice claims if their failures result in injuries to their patients.
Doctors cannot avoid medical malpractice claims against them by blaming their office staff for failing to follow office protocol with regard to reporting diagnostic test results to them or to their patients — the doctors have the primary responsibility for the medical care of their patients.
If you have been injured as a result of the failure of your doctor or other health care provider to timely and appropriately report medical test results to you, or to promptly arrange for proper medical care as a result of the test results, you may have a claim for medical malpractice against the offending doctor or other health care provider.
Visit our website to be connected with local medical malpractice attorneys in your area who may be able to investigate your medical malpractice claim and represent with regard to your medical malpractice claim, if appropriate. We may also be reached toll free at 800-295-3959.
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