In a report printed in the June 22 issue of "The Archives of Internal Medicine," researchers revealed that doctors in the U.S. fail to tell patients about abnormal test results 7 percent of the time.
Yes, studying 5,434 patients and 23 primary care practices, the researchers found that one out of every 14 clinically significant findings simply fell between the cracks!
What if every profession became so slipshod about relaying information? What if building inspectors, school crossing guards, and military radar operators passed along only 93 percent of the information available to them? Civilization would start to crumble if fathers suddenly started missing 7 percent of their chances to shout, "Back when I was a boy, we didn't have blah blah blah..."
I did my own survey to gauge physicians' reactions to the indictment. Ten percent of the doctors blamed government regulations, 30 percent referred me to their lawyers, 25 percent blamed paperwork passing through too many hands, 10 percent thought they were supposed to be grading patients on the curve, and 25 percent resorted to a bad Jack Nicholson impersonation. ("You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!")
One problem is that different doctors judge different things as "significant." ("Really? Kramer and Jerry accidentally dropped a Junior Mint into a surgical patient? All I remember about that episode is George wearing a new pair of shoes.")
Perhaps some old-fashioned doctors are just in denial when a condition is flagged. Dr. John ("If it's not in my waiting room's copy of the August 1973 'Field and Stream' it's not a real medical condition!") Blutarsky comes to mind. He's still stung by that infamous false positive on rockin' pneumonia and boogie woogie flu.
Some of the doctors pointed out that they didn't necessarily FAIL to notify patients; they just hadn't done it in a timely fashion. ("Mrs. Smith, I think you'll be happily surprised to know that the ultrasound showed twins...What's that? Co-valedictorians at Harvard?? Congratulations. If only there father were alive to see them -- and to get me out of that messy malpractice judgment...")
The highly touted electronic medical records don't seem to improve things significantly. The best you can hope for is getting a call in the middle of the night like "This is Jimmy da Fence. I am in possession of a certain stolen laptop computer, and I think you really oughtta have your stents checked out. Capeesh?"
To be fair, some of the patients in the study may have BEEN informed. Because of sloppy record-keeping, the doctors just can't DOCUMENT that they were informed. This failure goes a long way to explain why medical types are so crazy about hospital gowns. Why should they worry about your modesty if they don't have enough sense to cover their own...well, you get the picture.
But seriously, folks, as the Reuters News Service commented, not telling patients about abnormal test results can delay treatments of cancers or heart disease, hurting the patient's chances of survival. Don't assume that "no news is good news." Make sure you get results for every test performed. Know if your physician has steps in place to ensure full reporting.
I hope this article spurs some action. But don't blame me if your medical bills suddenly contain a new entry ("piece of string to tie around doctor's finger: $75.00").
Note: Danny Tyree welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.