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Medical test errors: Part 1

lab test tubes.jpgMedical tests are routine, or so we like to think. Seldom do we question a positive or negative result, and we undertake or decline treatment based on those results. Almost everyone has had some type of medical lab test - a throat culture, a urinalysis or a blood glucose level.

Tests like these are thought to be foolproof. As a result, many are not subject to oversight - they are thought to be so straightforward that anyone can do them. Tests such as these are known as "waived" tests, meaning that they are not subject to regulation because regulatory requirements have been waived. The idea is that they are so simple that in the unlikely event that one is improperly performed, there is little or no risk to the patient.

According to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a spot check of laboratory facilities showed that fewer than 50 percent met standards established to ensure accuracy and patient safety. According to the story, procedures are not followed, expired testing chemicals are used, and samples and testing materials are not refrigerated when required.

Consequences of Improperly Performed Medical Tests

There are numerous examples of what happens when medical lab tests are not conducted properly. Medical providers have treated the wrong conditions, patients have been incorrectly identified as prescription drug addicts, illnesses have beenmisdiagnosed and unnecessary cesarean sections have been performed, all because of improper testing that gave incorrect results.

The number of labs performing waived tests has grown. They are found in doctor's offices and clinics, emergency rooms, nursing homes, and clinics in stores like Walgreens, Target and CVS. In 1992, 20 percent of labs performed waived tests exclusively. Today, more than 70 percent of the 250,000 laboratories in the U.S. perform waived tests.

Why Waived Lab Tests Are Good Business

Getting into the waived test business is profitable. Labs licensed to do the tests cannot be inspected by government regulators. The license is inexpensive - $150 for two years. The lack of oversight means that labs can hire almost anyone to do the work.

The director of the lab as well as testing staff do not need specific education or training. Clerks or receptionists can and do perform the tests. The only requirement, seemingly, is that they be able to read to follow the manufacturer's instructions.

A future blog post will discuss how these waived tests can seriously affect patient safety when done incorrectly. If you believe that you were injured because of inaccurate or improperly conducted medical test results, a medical malpractice attorney may be able to advise you about your rights and options.

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