Common Testing Mistakes at the Family Doctor’s Office

A new study from the journal Quality and Safety in Health Care, and discussed in the NY Times Well blog, reveals common testing mistakes by primary-care doctors. Of course, the same kinds of errors can happen in hospitals and other health care settings.

Out of close to the 1,000 mistakes experienced by 590 patients, the following testing mistakes were the most common:

-13% involved ordering the wrong test or failing to order a test
-18% involved performing the right test, but doing it improperly

-25% involved delays in getting tests back from the laboratory, failure to get the tests back at all, or errors on the results report

-7% involved failing to follow up with patients after receiving results from the laboratory
-75% of the mistakes caused the patient to suffer (through delays in proper treatment, greater expense, physical pain or worsened overall health).

What can a patient do about this? A possible solution would be to carefully ask and write down what specific test your doctor has ordered for you. Ask when the results of the test are expected from the lab. Then make sure you call to follow up after the doctor’s office should have received the results. Read the results report, if you can get hold of it, to see the name of the test and make sure that the results are for the same test that was ordered and performed. All of these things might help reduce your risk. Calling the doctor to follow up is probably the most important item on the list, as Dr. Lamberts says in his quotation in the linked NY Times blog post.

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