When most people think of medical malpractice suits, they probably think of negligent physicians and dangerous drugs.
They usually don’t think of lab tests.
Most people probably assume that lab tests are infallible. They’re scientific tests, after all, and scientific tests are objective and accurate.
Unfortunately, all too often, that isn’t the case at all.
Studies have shown that as many as three to five percent of lab test results are incorrect. Many of these incorrect results can lead to unnecessary treatments and surgery in the case of false positives; and delays in necessary, life-saving treatments in the case of false negatives, among other problems.
There are a wide range of types of lab testing error that can affect your test results, including:
- Mixup of samples and patient information
- Technician errors in reading and interpreting test results
- Contamination of samples
- Insufficient samples, such as biopsies that fail to test sufficient quantities to detect cancer cells
- Chemical interactions
As numerous as the types of error, too, are the ways in which these faulty results can damage patients. From loss of employment opportunities as a result of false positive drug screenings, to disfiguring and unnecessary surgeries for false positives in cancer screening and delays in treatment as a result of false negatives, people are hurt every day—physically, emotionally, and financially—due to faulty lab tests.
- A 34 year old woman was incorrectly diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer, and had her entire lower jaw removed, suffering permanent disfigurement, before discovering that she never had cancer at all.
- In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, several patients have filed a class action suit against Magee-Womens Hospital, alleging that their lab results were unreliable and caused delays for several patients with life threatening cervical cancer that went undetected by their pap tests.
- In April, 2006, the drug company Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics Inc., owned by parent company Johnson & Johnson, recalled a chemical reagent used in laboratory tests for pregnancy, hepatitis, HIV and AIDS, because the chemical was found to produce false negatives.
- Several lawsuits have been filed over the years by employees or prospective employees over lost employment as a result of false positive results on drug tests that incorrectly identified them as illicit drug users.
After neurology related claims, in fact, claims citing faulty lab tests are the second most costly to hospitals in terms of malpractice payouts.
Recent initiatives being considered to alleviate the problem are employing techniques that have been in place in assembly lines and other production facilities for years. The largest organization involved in these initiatives involves nine academic medical facilities, collaborating in an effort to redesign current lab testing systems, and adopt a model patterned after those currently being used in facilities such as the Toyota production system.
These methods are designed to reduce errors by automating the collection and testing process, by eliminating many human errors, and by instituting quality control procedures such as error checking and verification procedures.
While many laboratory technicians are initially resisting any changes to the system, many patients and doctors laud the efforts, and hold great hope that, with a few simple changes to the testing processes, error rates can be greatly reduced, and fewer patients will suffer from the consequences of faulty lab results.