Most people assume that if medical tests reveal something seriously wrong, their doctors will be quick to call to alert them. But in many cases, that doesn’t happen and it can have dire results.
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(12):1123-1129) found that in some medical groups, as many as one in four abnormal test results are not reported to patients. The analysis of more than 5,000 patient records discovered that many doctors have no formal process in place that makes sure patients hear about important findings.
“Failure to report abnormal test results can lead to serious, even lethal consequences for the patient,” says Dr. Lawrence P. Casalino, a researcher with the department of public health of Weill Cornell Medical College. “The good news is that physicians who use a simple set of systematic processes to deal with test results can greatly lessen their error rates.
“We found that very few physician practices had explicit rules for managing test results,” says Dr. Casalino. “In many practices, each physician devised his or her own method. And in many cases, physicians and their staff told patients that ‘no news is good news’ — meaning they should assume that their tests are normal unless they are contacted. This is a dangerous assumption.”