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Hospitals discharge patients without reviewing test results

Michigan residents rely on hospitals and emergency care providers to give competent and adequate care in what may be the most serious of situations. The very nature of a medical emergency means that patients are not often concerned with negligent medical care at the time of treatment. But hospitals must still maintain a certain standard of care, even when it comes to the unexpected.

Emergency care often means taking plenty of tests and performing many procedures. But findings from a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that over a third of patients are discharged from the hospital without ever hearing the results of the tests or before the tests are even reviewed.

One reason for this is that hospitals often perform many of the tests on a patient's last day. And, sometimes, last day tests may be unnecessary. But according to researchers, one out of seven of these tests may come back with abnormal results.

Discharging a patient prior to getting test results is not necessarily a bad thing, and is common practice, but doctors need to keep the lines of communication open after the patient is home. Patients should at least be aware of when to expect the results.

Patients who receive care and know that a certain test is pending results should not assume that "no new is good news." It is critical to follow up with the hospital if a patient does not receive the results of those tests. A recent study showed that out of the results not reviewed at the time of discharge, half had still not been reviewed two months later.

Tests performed on the last day of a patient's hospital stay present another danger, because doctors may assume results were normal and not ever check to confirm. Or it may boil down to simple confusion as to which doctor is in charge of checking the results.

Either way, hospitals and doctors must abide by a certain standard of care for patients, including emergency patients. This duty includes following up on test results and not making potentially dangerous assumptions.

Patients who have suffered due to hospital negligence or lack of information following a discharge may have a potential medical malpractice claim.

Source: Fox News, "Hospital patients often sent home with pending tests," Reuters, Aug. 14, 2012

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