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Communication may be blamed for an increase in malpractice claims

Researchers at one New York institution have found that more physicians are facing medical malpractice lawsuits because of diagnostic factors.

According to a recently released study, the number of medical malpractice payments rose 40 percent between 1996 and 2003 for cases involving some form of failure in the patient's diagnosis. The lawsuits, however, aren't based on the actual diagnostic tests, but rather how doctors communicated the results. In some cases, diagnostic test results weren't received. In other cases, the results of diagnostic tests or the subsequent findings were delayed.

Researchers at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center also found that medical malpractice claims based on the top three types of communication failures increased by almost $70 million between 1991 and 2010. Payments for medical malpractice claims during that same time period increased by almost $5 million each year.

The authors of the study suggest that hospitals clearly delegate the responsibilities of reporting tests results to patients. They also believe that a semi automated critical test result management system could help alleviate a number of different problems in terms of communicating diagnostic test results.

It can be the difference between life and death if a doctor fails to properly diagnose a patient. People expect that their doctors will diagnose their condition in a timely manner, and report the necessary information to them. When this doesn't happen, a medical malpractice lawsuit may be necessary.

Doctors and other medical professionals have a duty to help their patients. If they fail to do that, they should be held responsible.

Source: Renal and Urology News, "Diagnosticians Face Higher Malpractice Suit Risk," Ann W. Latner, JD, Dec. 13, 2011

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