Medical errors arising out of missed test reports are surprisingly common at VA facilities, according to a new report published in JAMA Internal Medicine. As a medical malpractice attorney, I am always interested in public perceptions about healthcare. One popular opinion is that the care provided at VA medical centers is often poor quality. My experience tells me that the care provided at VA centers is no worse nor better than care provided at nongovernmental hospitals. However, this new study seems to support that notion in at least one critical respect.
The JAMA study found that about 30% of 5000 VA physicians surveyed admitted that they failed to see important test results that were delivered via the VA’s electronic medical record (EMR) system on at least one occasion. Plainly, to comply with accepted standards of medical care, a hospital must have a system in place that reliably transmits test results to the physicians who are awaiting those results to make a diagnosis and begin treatment. A medical negligence claim may arise if an important test result is missed and it results in harm to the patient by virtue of delayed or improper treatment. This includes a pathology report or report from an x-ray or other scan that is lost, missed or ignored for whatever reason.
Surveys that rely on self-reporting by physicians are notorious for underreporting results, so it would not be surprising if the actual number of medical errors arising out of missed test results is much higher. Further, while this study reports on experiences among VA physicians, EMRs are being used by most hospital systems, with many reporting similar errors. Adding credibility to the study is the fact that it was supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
The survey’s authors were not able to pinpoint the cause of the errors. However, they suspect “information overload from alert notifications, electronic handoffs in care, and practitioner perceptions of poor (EMR) usability.” “Practitioner perceptions of poor EMR usability” means that many caregivers, doctors and nurses alike, find that the EMR makes the practice of medicine less safe and more time-consuming. This is a shameful thought, if true, given that these facilities service the men and women of the Armed Services – Navy, Marines, Air Force and Army veterans.
Claims against the VA involve a special process set forth in the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). If you or a loved one was injured by treatment provided at a VA facility, we have experience with these claims and can answer your questions.