Communication Failure Leads to Delayed Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Technology has created fabulous new advancements over the last 50 years that make it easier for professionals to perform even the most simple of tasks. However, all of the benefits of this technology is of little use the information gleaned from it is not properly communicated. In some instances, a lack of communication can have deadly consequences, such as when the failure to follow up on tests results in undiagnosed cancer in New York.

Communication breakdown can occur between a lab or radiology department, or between a physician/doctor and the patient. Test results are a key aspect to anyone’s health care, but for people who may be dealing with cancer, they are especially important. This became all-too-clear when one woman’s breast cancer diagnosis was delayed almost a year because of the failure of a physician to follow-up and another’s failure to review the critical lab results delivered to his desk. By the time the mammogram screening results were delivered, the woman’s cancer had spread well into her chest wall.

The lab which analyzed the woman’s mammogram had mistakenly sent the results to an orthopedic surgeon, who left the results sitting on his desk the entire time without ever examining them. The woman hired a medical malpractice lawyer and her case was settled. Sadly, the woman was not alone. A recent study in the Journal of the American College of Radiology reported the annual medical malpractice payouts as a result of communication failures was $91 million from 1991 to 2010. It goes without saying that lack of communication is responsible for a significant amount of the medical errors injuring so many individuals in Rochester and across the country.

The study found that of the 306 cases where test results were responsible for the medical malpractice claim, failure to relay test results to the patient made up 143 of those cases and failure to deliver the test results to the attending physician made up 110 of those cases. According to, experts and advocates believe that coordinating patient care through electronic medical records will help make sure test results get to the correct doctor. To address the problem of doctors reading and communicating results to patients, some health care providers are implementing a multi-layered approach that utilizes a web-based system to prioritize the most important lab results and e-mails doctors about tests that indicate urgent attention is required. The system even has a final precautionary measure that notifies the manager of the practice if the doctor does not respond. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of health care organizations to ensure that test results are making their way to the proper doctor the doctor reviews those results in a timely manner and makes sure they are in turn, delivered to the patient. Experts agree that patients should not have to hound their doctors to obtain test results. Doctors who order test results, need to make sure follow-up measures are in place to ensure lab results do not slip through the cracks. Kammholz Law PLLC will review your case for you


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