Are you like most people who assume that no news is good news after you’ve undergone a series of tests ordered by your doctor? If so, you should be alarmed by a recent study, and you should never assume that your doctor will automatically tell you if you have an abnormal test result. Researchers studying office procedures among primary care doctors found that more than 7 percent of clinically significant findings were never reported to the patient. There’s a name for this phenomenon: medical malpractice.
The study reviewed the records of 5,434 patients at 19 different primary care practices and four based in medical centers. They pulled records containing abnormal results for blood tests, x-rays, and other imaging studies, and then searched for documentation that the patient had been properly informed of the results in a timely manner. The researchers then surveyed the doctors whose patients had not been informed of their results. Not surprisingly, some claimed the patient had been informed verbally. Others believed the results were not significant and therefore required no notification, and others claimed they soon would be notifiying the patient of the results. After giving all of the above-referenced doctors the benefit of the doubt and excluding them from the data, the study still found that 7 percent of patients were not informed of abnormal test results.
There are some cancers that, if detected early, are treatable and curable. Some of these cancers are also quit aggressive. Consequently, a six or twelve month delay in diagnosis may be fatal. Unfortunatately, it is not uncommon to hear about the woman who goes to her annual check up only to have her doctor pull her file and read for the first time the abnormal results from last year’s Pap smear, breast biopsy, etc. What was potentially curable 12 months earlier, has now progressed to late-stage cancer.
We’re all guilty of putting too much faith in our doctors. I love my primary physician and recommend him to everyone I know. But, I still don’t know the results of blood tests I had many months ago. This study reminds me to find out!