Lab Mistakes

Each year, medical lab mistakes occur more than a million times in the U.S., and several thousand of these lab errors result in someone’s death. Although the healthcare system in America is sometimes described as “the best in the world,” that’s no comfort to a patient whose condition has worsened because of a lab mistake, or to the family members of someone who died due to a lab error.

Even though medical advances have provided significant progress in the realm of healthcare, the risk of human error is as high as ever — perhaps more now than ever because of all the new techniques, medicines, tests, and devices that are constantly being introduced. Medical malpractice is a familiar term to most Americans, and we are all aware that healthcare professionals such as doctors, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and even psychiatrists make mistakes. Less well known are the errors made by a crucial part of the system: laboratory staff.

Many Types of Lab Errors

Having medical tests performed is a very common element of a patient’s diagnosis and treatment. Physicians must identify, confirm, and document what is ailing a patient. Lab errors occur when medical testing, images, or procedures are mishandled. Examples of lab mistakes include:

  • Images such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) are taken incorrectly
  • A patient’s test sample or paperwork is mixed up with that of another patient
  • Specimens or samples are taken incorrectly
  • Images or test samples are mishandled or lost
  • Results are misinterpreted
  • Patient identification errors are made

Laboratory Results Follow a Complex Path

Radiology laboratories (where MRI and CT images are processed) and pathology laboratories (where tissue, blood, and urine samples are examined) provide an intermediate step in the complex path that laboratory results must follow. After a patient is examined, his or her biopsy tissue, blood, urine, or imaging information is sent to a laboratory, which is often not part of the facility where the patient was examined and tested.

The lab results are sent back to the doctor or healthcare facility. Many labs handle tens of thousands of images and/or test samples every year. At every step of the way, lab mistakes can and have been made.

Non-Diagnosis, Misdiagnosis, and Late Diagnosis

For example, a lab mistake in not correctly identifying disease at an early stage allows the disease to progress to a more serious condition. Lab errors regarding materials such as tumor samples, mammograms, biopsies, Pap smears, CAT scans, etc. must be examined, labeled, handled, and interpreted correctly by a number of different personnel.

Other serious lab mistakes may involve the misdiagnosis of communicable diseases such as the flu and tuberculosis. The non-diagnosis or misdiagnosis of foodborne illnesses such as E. coli poisoning and Salmonella can have very serious or even fatal consequences.

Contact an Attorney about Lab Mistakes

Medical malpractice and personal injury attorneys are familiar with the legal process that can help an individual or family that has been impacted by a lab error. Discuss your case with an attorney near you to learn about the possible legal remedies for lab mistakes.