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Failure to Communicate Test Results

This Doctor is Communicating Test results to his Patient.

Among the leading causes of medical misdiagnosis is a failure to communicate diagnostic test results. Communication of a diagnosis is arguably as important as the diagnosis itself. Patients deserve to know the results of the medical tests they receive in a timely manner. Test results should also be communicated from the lab or testing facility to the medical providers responsible for the patient’s treatment.

When abnormal test results are not properly reported, the consequences can be serious and even fatal.

The Seattle medical malpractice lawyers at The Tinker Law Firm, PLLC can help if you have reason to believe that you or a loved one was harmed by a negligent breakdown in the communication of medical test results. Our attorneys have recovered millions of dollars on behalf of those injured by negligent medical care. For a free review of your case, complete our online contact form.

What types of medical tests could involve miscommunicated results?

Medical tests can be divided into two broad categories: diagnostic tests and screening tests. Diagnostic tests are administered to patients who exhibit signs of a disease or condition, such as a woman with a lump in her breast or a man with pain and pressure in his chest. Screening tests, on the other hand, are performed on patients who are considered to be at risk of developing a disease or condition – for example, routine mammograms for women and PSA screenings for men.

Medical testing can also be categorized as laboratory tests and imaging tests. The former includes testing of blood and other body fluids as well as tissue samples, while the latter includes tests such as X-ray, MRI, CT, and EKG.

When could miscommunication of test results amount to medical negligence?

Regardless of the type of medical test performed, if the results are not communicated in a timely and appropriate manner and the patient subsequently suffers harm, it may form the basis of a medical malpractice lawsuit. Harm, however, must be suffered, as a patient who suffers no injury after a failed communication will probably have no basis for a lawsuit.

Note, however, that harm can include the progression of an injury or condition. For instance, if test results that reveal cancer are communicated too late and the patient has to then undergo intensive treatment because of the advanced stage of illness, the patient may be able to show that unnecessary harm was caused by the negligent delay in reporting the test results

What causes miscommunication of test results?

Research indicates that communication problems are a factor in up to 80 percent of medical malpractice cases. One study concluded that physicians did not acknowledge 36 percent of abnormal radiologic results. Another study found that 17-32 percent of physicians reported having no reliable method for ensuring that test results are received. The same study also reported that one-third of physicians do not always notify patients of abnormal test results. By one estimate, abnormal outpatient test results are not communicated in 7.1 percent of treatment relationships.

A 2011 study appearing in the Journal of the American College of Radiology revealed that the legal costs to doctors for failing to communicate diagnostic test results rose by $70 million from 1991 to 2010 across all specialties. The lead study author stated that communication failure can happen at any level. Three scenarios, however, were identified as the leading causes of communication problems:

  • Failure to notify the patient of the test result
  • Telling the patient an incorrect test result
  • Failure to notify the referring clinician

As for why these errors might occur, there is general consensus among the medical community on the following points:

  • Lack of an effective test result tracking system
  • Inadequate or incomplete documentation
  • Failure by office staff to follow the scope of practice requirements
  • Growth in diagnostic test volume

Who could be responsible for a negligent error in communicating test results?

It is typically the referring physician who orders the tests, or the provider responsible for administering medical tests (a radiologist or pathologist) who is named as a defendant in a malpractice case involving failed communication of test results. Depending on the case, it may also be possible to hold the hospital itself, responsible for patient harm due to negligent failure to communicate the results of medical testing.

While some diagnostic errors may be seen as reasonable, patient harm that stems from inadequate communication could be the result of negligence on the part of medical providers. Every case is different, and the strength of yours is in the details. To have those details reviewed by an experienced medical malpractice lawyer, contact The Tinker Law Firm, PLLC. Call us today or fill out our online contact form for a free claim evaluation.

The attorneys at The Tinker Law Firm, PLLC are experienced in reviewing cases that potentially involve negligent errors in communicating the results of medical tests. Our lawyers work with doctors, nurses, and other medical experts to review medical records for indicators of negligent errors in the communication of diagnostic test results.

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