We’re all familiar with the game of telephone. Someone with a certain message whispers it to the person next to them, who then whispers to the person next to them. So it goes down the line. By the time the message reaches the end, it is likely to be entirely different than what was first shared.
In daily life, when important information goes through numerous channels, critical details can be lost or miscommunicated. And although many people may not realize it, this is often how medical misdiagnosis occurs. According to a recent op-ed by a professor of pathology at Yale, the culprit is easy to identify. But because of entrenched practices in medicine, it may be difficult to fix.
In medicine, it is standard procedure for the specialists who perform tests (like pathologists and radiologists) to share test results with the treating physician (the one who ordered the test) rather than directly with the patient. This approach makes sense in certain cases, but there are many problems with it as well.
For instance, if you went into the emergency room and got testing done, your treating physician would be a doctor you’ve never met. If you returned two days later with the same symptoms, you may have an entirely different doctor. Meanwhile, the original doc who treated you got your test results but didn’t pass them on because he or she didn’t see you in person again.
In other cases, the tests being conducted are highly specialized and beyond the easy comprehension of the physician who ordered them. Even if they pass results on to the patient, they could easily misstate results or misinterpret the numbers.
The article’s author notes that this problem could be easily fixed if test results followed the patient rather than the doctor who ordered them. In other words, it should become standard practice for the testing physicians to simply communicate the results directly to patients. This would ensure that the results always made it back to patients and that the information was correctly communicated.
Miscommunication is more problematic than you might think. Up to 36 percent of imaging results and up to 62 percent of lab test results get overlooked by care providers. When those test and imaging results show cancer or other critical illnesses, the mistake can be fatal.
If you or a loved one was seriously injured (or worse) due to a preventable communication error or some other incident of medical malpractice, please contact an experienced attorney to discuss your legal options.