I have represented many clients seriously harmed by the failure of their treating doctors to properly and timely communicate diagnostic imaging results. When an MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound study is performed, a radiologist you never meet reads the study and prepares a report for the benefit of the referring physician. It is then the responsibility of the referring physician to communicate the test result and its significance to the patient. However, sometimes, these results are not properly communicated to patients by referring physicians.
If a radiologist suspects a potential malignancy and the referring physician characterizes the result to the patient as normal, or, does not communicate the result at all, the patient could suffer devastating consequences.
As of December 23, 2018, Pennsylvania state law now requires that the imaging center report any significant abnormal finding directly to the patient.
The Patient Test Result Information Act requires an imaging center to directly notify patients within twenty (20) days that a “significant abnormality” may have been identified. A significant abnormality is defined in the law as a “finding by a diagnostic imaging service of an abnormality or anomaly which would cause a reasonably prudent person to seek additional or follow up medical care within three (3) months.” A notice must be sent to the patient that states the following: (1) the name of the ordering health care practitioner; (2) the date the test was performed; (3) the date the results were sent to the ordering health care practitioner; (4) the following statement: “You are receiving this notice as a result of a determination by your diagnostic imaging service that further discussions of your test results are warranted and would be beneficial to you. The complete results of your test or tests have been or will be sent to the healthcare practitioner that ordered the test or tests. It is recommended that you contact your healthcare practitioner to discuss your results as soon as possible”; (5) the contact information necessary for the patient to obtain a full report.
It is not required that the diagnostic imaging service actually provide the diagnostic report itself but may choose to do so.
To some in the medical profession, this rule may cause unnecessary upset to patients contending that the purpose of providing the ordering provider with the information, instead of the patient, is so that the provider is able to put the imaging test results in proper context to determine whether the patient needs additional testing. There is also concern that radiologists and their employer entity will feel pressure to “overhaul” findings to avoid potential liability under the Act.
The Rule, however, does close a significant potential gap in communication between a reading radiologist, the referring provider and the patient. I predict this rule will save lives.