When Doctors Fail to Review Hospital Test Results

When you go to the hospital, you expect that medical professionals will be able to diagnose and treat any conditions you are suffering from. To do so, doctors may run a battery of tests, and sometimes perform exploratory surgery. Some tests may take days to run, so occasionally, patients may be discharged from the hospital before these tests return.

One would hope that doctors would still review these test results. Unfortunately, this sometimes doesn’t happen, resulting in the potential for misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis.

New York Case of Delayed Diagnosis

Take the case of a patient at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. An otherwise healthy 30-year-old man was admitted with severe abdominal pain. After a series of blood tests, a CT scan and exploratory surgery, the doctors couldn’t find anything that would cause such excruciating pain. The pain eventually became tolerable with oral medications, so the man was discharged from the hospital.

The pain returned and his wife brought him back to Mount Sinai. Again, doctors were puzzled when trying to determine the cause of the pain. One doctor paged through the man’s chart looking at all the tests that were run. He made an important finding. One test that came back after the man was discharged indicated he may have acute intermittent porphyria (AIP), a genetic disease where an individual has problems making a component of muscles, red blood cells and certain enzymes. It can also result in a build-up of chemicals in the body that may cause severe abdominal pain.

Follow-up tests confirmed the diagnosis. After enduring weeks of pain, the outlook for the man is good since AIP can be effectively treated with drugs and diet.

The Problem of Post-Discharge Test Results

Why did no one notice the man’s concerning test results earlier? Since he had been discharged from the hospital, his doctor wasn’t notified when the tests came back, and the test results were merely filed in his chart.

This is a common practice among hospitals using paper charts, and can lead to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that among two hospitals, over 40 percent of patients who were discharged had pending test results. Almost 10 percent of those results may have led to a new diagnosis or a change in treatment. Of those, physicians were unaware of over 60 percent of the results, some requiring urgent action.

Electronic medical records may provide part of the solution to this problem. Mount Sinai has now implemented them. Doctors now receive post-discharge test results in their electronic inboxes. Other hospitals have piloted similar systems where post-discharge test results are emailed to both a patient’s hospital physician and his or her outpatient doctor.

Still, many hospitals have yet to adopt electronic medical records, so the issue of post-discharge test results remains. Moreover, even electronic systems require doctors to take the time to review additional test results.

If you have experienced a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis due to an oversight in your test results, or any other type of medical malpractice, contact an experienced attorney to discuss your rights and options.