Failure to Communicate Test Results Medical Malpractice

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 Am I Entitled to Know the Results of My Medical Exams?

As a patient that has received medical care, yes, you are entitled to know the results of any and all of your medical exams. It is important to note that all medical professionals are held to a high standard of medical care. Specifically, there are medical ethics and legal obligations which compel medical professionals to timely provide the results of any medical exams to their patients.

As such, when a patient undergoes a medical test or examination, that patient has the right to be informed about the purpose of the exam, the potential risks of the exam, and the expected outcome of the exam. This process is known as informed consent. By timely providing test results to their patients, medical professionals fulfill their duty to keep patients informed about their health status and treatment.

Importantly, medical professionals also have a duty of care toward their patients, and part of that duty of care includes the timely communication of medical exams. When a medical professional fails to meet their duty of care by delaying or withholding medical exam results, such acts may result in a delay of necessary treatment or patient anxiety. As such, it is important for medical professionals to timely report the results of medical examinations, especially upon a request by the patient.

In addition to an ethical obligation, there are also laws and regulations which require healthcare providers to timely share exam results with patients. For instance, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) mandates that patients have access to their medical records, including medical exam results.

Further, medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association (“AMA”) and the World Medical Association (“WMA”), also provide guidelines on ethical behavior for medical professionals when it comes to timely sharing of medical exam results. These guidelines emphasize complete transparency with all patients.

As such, any patient that encounters challenges in accessing their test results, should consider seeking legal advice, especially if the failure to timely disclose resulted in a personal injury. In fact, one of leading causes of medical misdiagnosis injuries is the failure to timely communicate medical test results. Thus, a doctor withholding test results shouldn’t occur, as a failure to inform patients about abnormal test results may result in injuries to patients or in rare cases, death to a patient.

Why Would My Doctor Withhold Test Results from Me?

Once again, patients have a legal right to know their test results promptly, and medical professionals have an ethical and legal obligation to timely provide test results. However, medical professionals often can fail to communicate test results to their patients. Then, the failure to timely communicate test results can result in serious consequences, such as the patient suffering further injury or harm.

Examples of reasons that a doctor may withhold test results from a patient include:

  • Forgetfulness: In some cases doctors may simply forget to inform their patients about their test results;
  • Communication Errors: In other cases, a patient’s test results may pass through several different parties, such as physician’s to nurses to labs and then back through the chain to the physician. Because of this miscommunications can occur along the communication chain; and/or
  • Lost Results: Medical test results may also get lost or confused with another patient’s file within hospitals or testing facilities.
    • In the case of a patient getting another patient’s test results instead of their own, this may result in harming multiple parties, as well as violating HIPAA.

What Types of Damages Can I Obtain?

If your test results have been withheld from you, you may be entitled to legal relief. Specifically, an individual that has had their test results withheld from them may be entitled to monetary damages for injuries that resulted from the failure to timely communicate test results. These monetary damages may include compensation for any medical fees and other related costs that stemmed from the failure to communicate.

For example, if the failure to communicate medical results causes the medical condition present in a person worsening, which in turn leads to further necessary exams and treatment, the person that suffered the injuries may seek to hold the medical professional responsible by filing a medical malpractice or medical negligence lawsuit.

If a person chooses to initiate a medical malpractice lawsuit, they will have to prove in court that they received actual damages due to the medical professional or medical facility’s failure to communicate test results. In some cases, this requires the testimony of an expert witness who can testify that the patient’s condition worsened as a result in the miscommunication.

What Types of Medical Tests Are Commonly Miscommunicated?

There are numerous different medical tests and examinations that a person may undergo in a lifetime. As such, there are numerous different types of medical tests that are commonly miscommunicated. Examples of common medical tests that are miscommunicated include:

  • Lab Results: According to U.S. News and World Report, as many as 62% of laboratory results are overlooked by care providers, including blood tests, urine tests, and other diagnostic analyses;
  • Imaging Results: U.S. News and World Report also notes that approximately 36% of imaging results, such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, are also not communicated to patients or their physician.
    • As mentioned above, a breakdown in the communication chain is often the reason for failure to timely communicate test results;
  • Pathology Reports: Reports from pathologists, such as the results of a tissue sample examination, or “biopsy,” are also overlooked in many cases, resulting in a delay for treatments for diseases such as cancer; and/or
  • Other Screening Tests: Other screening exam results are also subject to being miscommunicated, including screening test results for colorectal cancer, lung cancer, and breast cancer, which are all commonly performed.

When Could Failure to Disclose Test Results Amount to Medical Negligence?

A failure to disclose test results may amount to medical negligence if the test results are not communicated in a timely and appropriate manner to the patient, and the patient subsequently suffers harm. In other words, if the basis of a medical malpractice lawsuit has formed, medical negligence has likely occurred. In contrast, a patient who suffers no injury after a failed communication will likely have no basis for a medical negligence lawsuit.

What Causes Miscommunication of Test Results?

There are many different causes for miscommunication of test results. Failure to notify the patient of a test result, telling the patient of an incorrect test result, and failure to notify a referring clinician of test results are all common communication issues.

In fact, there is a general consensus among the medical community that lack of an effective test result tracking system, inadequate or incomplete documentation, failure by office staff to follow practice requirements, and growth diagnostic testing are all common causes of miscommunicated test results.

How Can I Protect Myself Against a Failure to Disclose?

In order to protect yourself against a failure to disclose, it is important to ask your doctor the following questions when you are undergoing a medical exam:

  • What is the purpose of this medical exam?
  • What particular condition are you trying to diagnose?
  • What type of information will the medical exam provide when completed?
    • Are there other ways to obtain such information?
  • What are the benefits and risks involved with the medical exam?
  • How should I prepare for the test?
  • When will I receive the test results, and what is the method of accessing them?
  • What steps should I take after the test?

The general idea of asking questions is to take charge of your healthcare and ensure that you are well informed of any medical exams being performed and when you should be getting results. As such, the most important step in protecting yourself is to be active in your care and follow up with your medical care providers.

It is also very important that you keep all of your medical records and medical receipts. Not only will records and receipts be useful in reminding yourself and others what tests have been performed on you, they may also be used as evidence if you end up having to initiate a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Do I Need a Lawyer If My Doctor Failed to Tell Me My Test Results?

If you believe that your doctor has failed to timely disclose your medical exam results, and you suffered an injury as a result, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.

An experienced personal injury lawyer will be aware of your state’s specific laws on medical malpractice and the release of medical documents and test results. Finally, an attorney will also be able to help you initiate a medical malpractice lawsuit against the party responsible for your injuries, and represent you in court, as needed.

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