Emily left her 20-week sonogram appointment feeling confident and content after the technician told her that her baby’s anatomy appeared to be “perfect”. A week later, she learned that her OBGYN never reviewed the electronic test results and missed some very important information that jeopardized the health of the baby and herself. She quickly went from delighted to scared and uncertain.
What happened? One week following her sonogram, Emily met with her regular OBGYN for a standard 15-minute checkup and there was no discussion of the test results. As she was leaving, she mentioned that the recent sonogram was an excellent experience. The doctor responded, “Oh great, let me just look and see if we got the results…have a seat”. The doctor opened his computer to review the electronic test results and went on to explain that, according to the sonogram, she had Placenta Previa (her placenta was completely blocking the birth canal). The doctor then shared important tasks that needed to be done in order to keep herself and the baby safe. These findings were common yet significant enough that someone should have explained them to her immediately.
As Emily got into her car to drive away, all she could think about was how she could have harmed herself or the baby because the doctor wasn’t going to say anything about the sonogram. She wondered if the technician was supposed to notify her doctor but hadn’t. Or maybe he had received the results but didn’t realize he needed to review them right away. Something so easily preventable could have fallen through the cracks, but why? Regardless, she felt she was gambling with her health even though she did everything she was supposed to do.
Miscommunications like this happen everyday and cost lives. A young woman recently died after her mammogram results were never reviewed. A boy with a serious internal infection was discharged from the hospital and lost his life because his test results were never sent to his doctor. The process of communicating test results needs to be safeguarded. With unlimited access to information online, we can be more proactive and accountable for our own health. But even with the world at our fingertips, this information can only take us so far. Following up with the doctor on our own is always a good idea but there must be a more airtight, timely communication procedure between practitioners, especially these days when everyone is bombarded with EMRs and crowded offices. Most importantly, this communication procedure must involve and empower patients. It really doesn’t have to be a roll of the dice.
This post was contributed by a concerned patient.