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Patients Not Getting Key Info from Doctors, Study Finds

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By David Goguen on June 29, 2009 9:14 AM

When It Comes to Medical Test Results, What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

Your doctor may not be telling you everything you need to know about your health -- including bad news from lab tests -- according to a new study that looked at the exchange of information between primary care physicians and their patients.

The study Frequency of Failure to Inform Patients of Clinically Significant Outpatient Test Results examined the recent history of 5,434 randomly-selected patients who were 50 to 69 years old.

The study found that in just over seven percent of cases, the primary physician either failed to inform the patient of "abnormal outpatient test results" -- the potentially bad news from things like blood tests, MRIs and X-rays -- or failed to properly document informing the patient. The research was published earlier this month in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

In an article on WebMD, Lawrence P. Casalino, MD, PhD, of Weill Cornell Medical College says that when it comes to getting the news -- good or bad -- from medical tests, patients need to be proactive: "The takeaway message for consumers is clear -- if you don't hear within two weeks, call your doctor's office."

When patients aren't given key information related to health conditions or treatment, doctors and other health care providers can be held liable for medical malpractice. Even the Archives of Internal Medicine study acknowledges that "failing to inform a patient of an abnormal outpatient test result can be a serious error."

The two most important considerations in these situations are 1) whether the information would have been given to the patient under generally accepted standards of practice in the relevant medical field, and 2) whether the failure to inform ended up causing the patient harm, i.e. worsening an existing health problem or creating a new one. Learn more about Medical Malpractice and the Law.

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