MONDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Results of medical tests done just before patients leave the hospital often go unread and are not acted upon, posing health risks to a significant number of patients, Australian researchers have found.
And the situation also exists in the United States, one expert warned.
"This is a huge problem," said Dr. Gordon Schiff, associate director of the Brigham Center for Patient Safety Research and Practice and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Although many tests don't uncover any serious problems, a significant number do, said Schiff, who was not involved with the study.
"We know that many tests that are ordered in hospitals never get looked at, yet these tests carry as much important information about patient health as other tests," said lead study author Enrico Coiera, director of the Center for Health Informatics at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation at the University of New South Wales.
"We wanted to understand better why doctors go to all the trouble of ordering tests, but then don't look at them," he said.
Close to half of the tests ordered on the day of discharge are never looked at again, Coiera said.
"Some of these are unnecessary and represent a major opportunity to save on costs," he said. "Others are clinically significant, and should be followed up."
The report was published as a research letter in the Aug. 13 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.
To understand the extent of the problem, Coiera's group reviewed more than 660,000 tests ordered for more than 6,700 patients. The study took place in a single metropolitan hospital.
"We found that it is tests ordered at discharge day where the biggest problem lies," Coiera said.
Although tests ordered on the day patients were discharged accounted for only about 7 perc
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