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Lack of communication leads to more malpractice suits

Have you ever gone to the doctor and then waited anxiously for the results of a lab test to return? Perhaps you waited for a call from your physician and, not hearing the phone ring, assumed that no news was good news. Such an assumption can be dangerous, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

The study found that between 1991 and 2010, medical malpractice suits that were attributed to a lack of communication, including failure to pass along test results to patients, more than quadrupled. In almost half of the more than 300 lawsuits in which test results were listed as a factor, the problem was that the patient didn't receive his or her results in a timely manner, according to AARP. In many other cases, the doctor hadn't received the results from the lab.

The danger is in assuming that because you didn't get a call or letter from your doctor with the test results, they came back normal and there is no cause for concern. Doctors warn that even healthy test results should be communicated.

The AARP offers some tips for ensuring that your test results reach you promptly:

-Ask your doctor what tests are being done and when you can expect to have them back. It sounds simple, and it is. If you have a date you can mark on your calendar, you'll know when to start calling if you don't get the results back.

-If you're having more than one test, ask your doctor if there's anything you can do to ensure you get all the results.

-Find out if there's a way for you to check your own results online. Many clinics have this service. Ask your doctor is hers is one of them.

-Make a special request that the lab send the results to your doctor. Make sure they have his correct contact info, too. There have been many instances where test results were sent to the wrong doctor.

If you've already suffered an unnecessary delay and your test results uncovered a health problem that could have been avoided with earlier notification, you may want to contact a professional beyond your doctor: an attorney specializing in medical malpractice. Just as with your doctor, there's no need for you to wait to make the call -- your health is worth it.

Source: AARP, "Want Your Test Results? Don't Wait. Nag Your Doctor," Candy Sagon, Nov. 30, 2011

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