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Patients are often discharged before final review of test results

When patients are discharged from hospitalization, they may generally assume that all test results ordered on their behalf have been properly reviewed. However, this may not be an accurate or even a safe assumption. Readers may be surprised to learn that up to half of all medical tests ordered the day of patient discharge are not reviewed by doctors, according to a recently published Australian study.

The study indicates that of all the tests unread at the time patients are discharged, 47 percent are tests ordered the same day as discharge, and 41 percent of unread tests have yet to be reviewed two months post discharge. These tests often provide important information about serious medical conditions that may have been diagnosed or have yet to be diagnosed.

In addition, some unread tests are unnecessarily ordered in the first place. Unnecessary patient testing is both dangerous and costly to the patient. When tests go unread, they either represent valuable information which has been lost or costly and potentially dangerous procedures which should have been avoided.

The authors of the study do suggest ways to solve these issues. First, electronic medical records should be utilized in order to keep track of all test results. First, the electronic system may send alerts to doctors when results are ready to be reviewed. The results may also be sent to the patient's primary doctor for reference during follow-up care. Second, the discharge process should be started earlier than it is, in order to give healthcare providers ample time to ensure that all pending tests have been completed and reviewed.

Testing is often crucial for patient well-being and safety. However, if tests are ordered, they should be reviewed. Physicians who fail to review important tests should be held accountable for their negligence. As a result, patients who suffer harm related to unread tests may wish to speak to an attorney about their options.

Source: U.S News, "Many test results left unread as patients leave hospital: Study," Steven Reinberg, Aug. 13, 2012

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