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Callen JL, Westbrook JI, Georgiou A, et al. J Gen Intern Med. 2011;27:1334-1348.
Following up test results in a timely fashion is a recognized patient safety problem in primary care, and inadequate follow-up systems are a source of frustration for outpatient clinicians and a relatively common source of malpractice claims. This systematic review found evidence that failure to act on abnormal radiology or laboratory results is common and clearly linked to missed or delayed diagnoses. The review also found wide variation in processes for handling test results across studies. Electronic health records (EHRs) did appear to improve test follow-up rates, although a substantial proportion of abnormal results were not followed up even with EHRs. The authors advocate for more standardized processes for informing patients of abnormal results, and recent guidelines have been published for organizational policies to improve test result communication.
Loren DJ, Klein EJ, Garbutt J, et al. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008;162:922-927.
Studies of medical error disclosure have demonstrated that, while physicians support disclosure of errors in theory, most "choose their words carefully" in practice and fail to disclose important elements of the error. In this study, pediatricians were presented with error scenarios and asked to describe what they would disclose to the child's parents. Overall, a minority of physicians would fully disclose the error, and most would not offer an explicit apology. An accompanying editorial discusses barriers to disclosing errors and strategies (including communication training) that should be implemented to improve this aspect of patient–physician communication.
Gandhi TK, Kachalia A, Thomas EJ, et al. Ann Intern Med. 2006;145:488-496.
Medical errors in the outpatient setting have remained a relatively understudied aspect of patient safety. This study analyzed data from malpractice claims at four liability insurers, similar to companion studies of errors in surgical and emergency department patients, to determine the frequency and causes of missed and delayed diagnoses. Diagnostic errors resulting in patient harm occurred in 181 cases, chiefly consisting of missed or delayed diagnoses of cancer. Failure to reach a timely diagnosis was generally due to multiple process breakdowns, including failure to order an appropriate diagnostic test and inadequate follow-up planning, many of which could be ascribed to physician cognitive errors. As with prior studies using chart review, reviewer's agreement on whether an error occurred was only moderate. The authors note that due to the complexity of contributing factors to outpatient errors, simple solutions are unlikely. An accompanying editorial, available via the link below, considers the differences in the nature of errors and approaches to solving them between the inpatient and outpatient settings and calls for greater attention to tackling outpatient safety issues.