US Doctors Failing to Follow-up Medical Test Results

SYDNEY, Oct. 2, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- An international systematic review has revealed critical diagnoses including cancer are being missed in the United States because health professionals are not consistently following up medical test results.

The review -- conducted by patient safety researchers at the University of New South Wales -- found up to 62 per cent of laboratory tests and up to 36 per cent of radiology reports were not being followed up by US doctors for patients attending GPs, clinics or hospital outpatients departments.

Lead author, Associate Professor Joanne Callen and her colleagues at UNSW's Centre for Health Systems and Safety Research found a "considerable" impact on patients, including missed critical diagnoses such cancer and a significant number of overlooked abnormal tests, including the presence of blood in faeces, an early potential cancer marker.

"Failure to follow-up test results for patients is a critical safety issue and a major problem," Associated Professor Callen says.

The review, published in the current issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, examined 19 studies carried out in the United States, where most research is being undertaken. However, Associate Professor Callen says similar test management practices in Australia and elsewhere suggests the failure to follow up medical tests is putting patients at risk of delayed treatment and missed diagnoses worldwide. The systematic review provides the first "baseline" indicator of the extent of the problem.

The US studies revealed great variability between different health care providers and across conditions, with a range of 6.8 to 62 per cent of lab tests and one to 36 per cent of radiology results not followed up by health care professionals, including the identification of malignancies.

Associated Professor Callen say potential solutions include laboratories releasing test results directly to patients to help them share responsibility for their own health and technology-based options like the electronic tracking of results to ensure they have not only have they been sent out, but have been "actioned".

"Many test results are normal and so the failure to follow-up has no impact at all. But, just one record left unread is a potential personal tragedy if it means critical care is not delivered in time."

Media contacts:
Assoc/Prof Joanne Callen:

Louise Williams:

SOURCE The University of New South Wales