Testing is an important part of healthcare because it helps give doctors more information that is used to make better and timelier diagnoses, to determine what treatments are best, and to monitor the effectiveness or side effects of treatments. Laboratory tests of patient samples and imaging scans in radiology departments are some of the important tests that doctors use to help patients.
When a test that would have provided crucial information in treating or diagnosing a patient is not ordered, it may be the fault of one or more professionals. When that misstep is negligent it is because it was preventable, represented a breach of duty of care, and caused significant harm to a patient. If you think you suffered because of a failure to order a test, consider working with a malpractice lawyer to determine if you have a case to make for compensation.
Errors in Ordering Tests
When doctors are diagnosing or treating patients they need to rely partly on tests, like blood tests that measure enzyme levels and other markers of disease or imaging scans that provide clues about the health of organs and other internal tissues. There are many tests that doctors use along with listening to and examining patients for making diagnoses, tracking the progress of treatments, and determining what procedures a patient may need. Testing is one crucial part of this process, and mistakes with testing can lead to serious harm to the patient. There are several ways that errors in test ordering may occur:
- A doctor may simply neglect to order a test.
- The doctor may order some tests but not others that would have helped make a diagnosis.
- The treating professional may be a resident or intern that was not properly supervised and therefore missed a test.
- A specialist recommends that a patient have certain tests or follow ups and the doctor responsible for ordering them fails to do so.
- A doctor may read test results incorrectly, and this may lead to a failure to follow up with additional appropriate tests.
- A patient may not get a follow up call or see the result of a test that recommends additional testing.
When Failing to Order a Test is Negligent
A failure to order the appropriate test for a patient may be negligent or it may not be, depending on the circumstances. To prove that the instance is negligent and a case of malpractice, the patient’s legal team must provide that there was an established responsibility to provide care to the patient by the defendant and that the duty of care was breached. Additionally it must be proven that the error caused harm and resulting significant damages to the patient.
The breach of care is often the most difficult factor to prove, and it hinges on showing that a similar professional would have done something differently in the same situation, such as ordering another test or calling the patient to recommend an appointment for additional testing. A doctor may not be negligent if someone else’s error caused his or her failure to order a test. For instance, the report that a doctor receives from a lab or radiologist may have errors in it that lead to a reasonable decision not to order another test. In that case the lab or radiologist may be found negligent of making a harmful mistake.
Consequences of Test Errors
One of the most common outcomes of failing to order a test for a patient is a delay in diagnosis or a failure to diagnose a condition. In some cases it may lead to a misdiagnosis if the doctor does not have all the necessary information because of a missing test. These errors in diagnosis can have very serious outcomes, although in some cases the consequences are mild.
Potential consequences of diagnostic errors that result from missing or failing to order tests include a condition that progresses, even to the point of being difficult to treat or life-threatening. Some of the most serious examples of this type of error are when the failure to order a test results in a delayed diagnosis for cancer. In these cases the patient’s cancer may progress to the point that there is no longer any hope of remission with treatment and it becomes a terminal case of cancer.
Other consequences in these situations may include worse symptoms, suffering and pain, emotional distress, additional conditions developing, delayed treatment, missed work, more medical bills, lost wages, lost capacity to earn, disability that may be temporary or permanent, and even death in the worst case scenarios.
Examples of Failure to Order Tests Malpractice Cases
There are too many examples of cases in which patients suffered, usually from a delay in diagnosis, because of a failure to order appropriate tests or to follow through with recommended tests. These real-world examples show how important it is for patients to be proactive about their own testing and seeing reports and recommendations from specialists.
In one example of such a case a man won a $150,000 award after a doctor failed to follow up with a patient and order additional tests. The man had a CT scan, which was ordered by a specialist in gastroenterology. The radiologist who read the scans recommended that the gastroenterologist order more radiology diagnostic tests. The doctor did not follow through and order those scans. As a result, the patient was diagnosed nearly a year later with kidney cancer and several complications. The failure to order additional tests resulted in a harmful delay in diagnosis.
In another case in which the patient received a settlement without going to trial, the accusation was that the doctor caused a delay in diagnosis of cancer because of a failure to follow up with timely tests. The man had been admitted to an emergency room and had a chest X-ray that the radiologist determined was abnormal and should be followed by additional imaging tests. The recommendation was sent to the patient’s regular physician who claimed to have called him to recommend making an appointment. The patient claimed he was never called and did not see the results of the abnormal X-ray.
Yet another example was devastating for the family of a patient who died because of a failure to order appropriate tests. The woman went to a community clinic with pain in her knees and difficulty breathing. At a follow up a physician’s assistant failed to recognize what might really be wrong and instead of ordering the right tests, sent her to see a behavioral health specialist for anxiety. Finally six weeks later, she started to go through testing for her physical symptoms, but during the tests she had a seizure and passed away. An autopsy found that she had blood clots that should have been detected earlier.
Patients rely on doctors and specialists to order and follow through with the tests that will determine what is causing their symptoms. They expect this to be done in a timely way so that they get diagnosed as soon as possible and get the right treatments sooner. When that process breaks down it can cause serious suffering, harm, and damages. If you were the victim of this kind of medical error, work with a malpractice lawyer to determine if you can prove your case.