You attend upon your general practitioner for a referral for your routine mammogram and subsequently present to radiology, just like you have done for the last 6 years. You leave the radiology clinic and receive no follow up from either practitioner and you assume no news is good news but is this really the case?

It begs the question, whose job is it to communicate test results ordered by one physician and conducted by another? Or is it your job as a patient to follow up on your own results?

The Medical Journal of Australia estimated that 140,000 cases of diagnostic error occur in Australia each year. More than 80% of errors are deemed preventable. Of those 140,000 cases, it is estimated that cognitive factors in clinician decision-making are primary or contributory causes of more than 75% of diagnostic errors, of which system errors such as missed communication or follow-up of a laboratory test result are included.

The duties of your general practitioner are governed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) Standards for general practices. These Standards require your general practitioner to have a system in place for follow up of tests and results. The criteria apply to: –

  • following up results from testing that has been conducted but the results not yet been received;
  • following up with the patient to discuss their results after they have been received; and
  • tracing the patient if they did not attend the test as expected.

Subject to the RACGP Standards, general practitioners are not expected to follow up every test ordered, or to contact patients with the results of every test or investigation undertaken, clinicians are required to assess the risk in the absence of following up clinically significant tests. These risks include a delay in the diagnosis of an illness. The Standards echo case law in which the responsibility to follow up has shifted from the patient and lies with your medical practitioners.

But what happens if your general practitioner is not forwarded your radiology results? The Standards of Practice for Clinical Radiology provide that your radiology practice is required to communicate clinically urgent or critical test results to a treating practitioner. Pursuant to the Standards, the reporting radiologist is required to use all reasonable endeavours to communicate directly with the referrer or an appropriate representative who will be providing clinical follow-up. In the event that the reporting radiologist is unable to communicate such findings to the referring clinician, the reporting radiologist has a duty to coordinate appropriate care for the patient.

A culture of ‘no news is good news’ contributes to an environment of significant diagnostic error in Australia. If you have experienced a delay in diagnosis at the hands of your medical practitioners, BPC Lawyers can assist. At BPC Lawyers you will deal with a specialist in the area. Contact our Sydney Personal injury lawyer today or call us on (02) 8280-6900.