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An error in the medical lab may underlie a misdiagnosis

In April, we discussed research that looked into the problem of a potential misdiagnosis in the outpatient setting. Misdiagnosis, delays in a diagnosis and the failure to diagnose are issues that can lead to significant harm to a patient. Treating for the wrong condition or failing to treat a serious condition can leave a patient with medical harm. The issue of misdiagnosis is not confined to the outpatient setting. Moreover, a misdiagnosis may be based upon mistakes that are made outside of a doctor's assessment.

A researcher at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine says that misdiagnoses can be the result of a lab error, even when a doctor has followed the proper standard of care in the office. Medical tests are commonly used to confirm or rule out conditions that may underlie a patient's symptoms during the diagnostic process.

Lab errors can arise in various ways, including problems in labeling, errors in the testing process, contamination of a medical sample and other forms of mistakes. A recent story in the Poughkeepsie Journal may highlight for people in Southwest Ohio how a mistake can occur in the lab.

A 4-year-old child was suffering from recurring high fevers and she was taken to the doctor for medical help. Doctors first ran tests on blood samples hoping to learn the cause of the fevers, but the tests came back negative. The girl was then sent to be tested for a genetic disorder. The girl’s mother chose a facility on the East Coast that is used by the National Institutes of Health.

The DNA testing came back indicating that the girl was suffering from Familial Mediterranean Fever, an incurable disorder. The treatment for the disorder caused the child to suffer side effects for roughly one-and-a-half years. Medical professionals then discovered that the girl’s lab sample had been mixed up with that of another patient. The girl did not have the disorder at all. The girl was taken to an ENT, who concluded that the girl only needed to have her tonsils removed.

A wrong diagnosis can cause a patient to suffer harm related to the protocol for treating a disease that the patient does not have. In serious illness cases, failing to uncover the serious illness can be harmful, and even fatal.

Source: Poughkeepsie Journal, “Medical test mistakes pose serious risk,” Lisa Iannucci, May 25, 2014

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