Failure to notify reportable test results: significance in medical malpractice

J Am Coll Radiol. 2011 Nov;8(11):776-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jacr.2011.06.023.


Background: Diagnostic physicians generally acknowledge their responsibility to notify referring clinicians whenever examinations demonstrate urgent or unexpected findings. During the past decade, clinicians have ordered dramatically greater numbers of diagnostic examinations. One study demonstrated that between 1996 and 2003, malpractice payments related to diagnosis increased by approximately 40%. Communication failures are a prominent cause of action in medical malpractice litigation. The aims of this study were to (1) define the magnitude of malpractice costs related to communication failures in test result notification and (2) determine if these costs are increasing significantly.

Evaluation: Linear regression analysis of National Practitioner Data Bank claims data from 1991 to 2009 suggested that claims payments increased at the national level by an average of $4.7 million annually (95% confidence interval, $2.98 million to $6.37 million). Controlled Risk Insurance Company/Risk Management Foundation claims data for 2004 to 2008 indicate that communication failures played a role, accounting for 4% of cases by volume and 7% of the total cost.

Discussion: Faile communication of clinical data constitutes an increasing proportion of medical malpractice payments. The increase in cases may reflect expectations of more reliable notification of medical data. Another explanation may be that the remarkable growth in diagnostic test volume has led to a corresponding increase in reportable results. If notification reliability remained unchanged, this increased volume would predict more failed notifications.

Conclusions: There is increased risk for malpractice litigation resulting from diagnostic test result notification. The advent of semiautomated critical test result management systems may improve notification reliability, improve workflow and patient safety, and, when necessary, provide legal documentation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Compensation and Redress / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Diagnostic Test Approval
  • Education, Medical, Continuing
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • Liability, Legal
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Malpractice / economics
  • Malpractice / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mandatory Reporting
  • Medical Errors / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Medical Errors / statistics & numerical data
  • National Practitioner Data Bank*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Management
  • United States