Silence isn’t golden.
It turns out that over the last 10 years, physicians have been ordering a lot more diagnostic tests. Partly due to the sheer volume of medical data created, a significant number of diagnostic test results may not end up being seen by your doctor or communicated to you.
In short: you get an important diagnostic test and the right people may never review the results.
That’s what researchers reported in the Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR). Researchers, led by Brian Gale, MD, MBA, of the Department of Radiology, State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, in Brooklyn, New York, found 306 of 8,417 medical malpractice cases between 2004 and 2008 were related to failure to communicate test results. The cases accounted for 7% of payouts, with radiologists cited as the primary defendants in about 8% of the cases. Total malpractice payouts in the U.S. for all medical specialties related to diagnostic test communication failures went from $211.7 million in 1991 to $91 million in 2009, according to the researchers.
There are some ways to ensure your test results get reviewed and reported to the necessary clinicians and to you:
- Make sure the tests you get are needed in the first place. If your physician suggests you should have a test, ask what he or she hopes to learn from the test and why it is being done now. Find out what the downsides of skipping the test might be, and whether it would make sense to wait and see whether your medical situation improves. You can also ask whether there are reasonable alternatives to the test.
- Before you go for the test, ask your physician how soon he or she will have the results and whether the office will notify you. If you don’t hear from the office, don’t assume your test results are fine. Always call.
- Ask for a copy of the written evaluation of the diagnostic test, read it carefully and keep it in your own “medical record” file at home.
- Send a copy of the written report to your internist or other physicians if you think they should be aware of the test results. Don’t assume that one physician will automatically communicate with your other doctors.
- If you or a family member is in the hospital, it’s equally important to follow up on medical tests and ask about the results. Do not assume they have been evaluated by your physician or consulting specialists. A S K and follow up.
- If you or a family member is about to get discharged from the hospital, ask what test results are still pending and talk to the physician about how to get the results if they’re not back yet when you leave the hospital. Many studies have shown these tests tend to fall in the gap between hospital and home.