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Docs Miss Test Results -- Even With Alerts

Communication woes still plague medical system, researchers find

MONDAY, Sept. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Even an advanced, computerized medical-record system with alerts cannot guarantee that patients will receive timely follow-up care when imaging tests turn up signs of trouble, new research suggests.

"Our findings suggest that an electronic medical record that facilitates transmission and availability of critical imaging results to the health care provider through either automated notification or direct access of primary report does not eliminate the problem of missed test results even when one or more health care providers read the results," write the authors of a study in the Sept. 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

According to the authors, communication breakdowns are blamed in cases when doctors don't follow-up on abnormal test results. In some cases, all the doctors involved in a patient's care don't receive information about, say, a lung mass.

Researchers set up alert notifications to let doctors know about abnormal test results at a Department of Veterans Affairs facility. They checked to see whether the doctors followed up with the patients.

Doctors failed to follow up in a timely fashion on nearly 8 percent of the alerts that showed signs of possible problems.

"Nearly all abnormal test results lacking timely follow-up at four weeks were eventually found to have measurable clinical impact in terms of further diagnostic testing or treatment," the authors wrote.

They are calling for more effective systems to make sure doctors pay attention to abnormal test results.

More information

To learn more about medical tests, see the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

--Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: American Medical Association, news release, Sept. 28, 2009

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