We’ve often touched on the subject of lab testing and defensive medicine, but as Happy Hospitalist points out [Oct. 11], ordering needless testing is by no means the only way the various parties endeavor to avoid liability. Another is the superfluous communication of not-really-urgent abnormal test results, sometimes on a doctor’s pager at 4 a.m.:
Unfortunately, patient safety is rarely an issue. It’s a giant game of shifting liability. The lab documents they notified the nurse–>lab off the hook if something bad happens. The nurse notifies the doctor —> nurse off the hook if something bad happens. Doctor is left with a critical value called 10 or 20 times a day, interrupting the entire flow of patient evaluations and discharges. Every time, I must stop what I’m doing and answer a page for a critical lab value, I lose valuable face time with patients. And it all adds up over the course of a day. I wouldn’t have a problem with the system, except that critical thinking has been removed from the equation. The nurse is not allowed to make judgments as to whether a phone call is warranted or not.
As a default protocol of calling all critical lab values, the liability is shifted up the educational food chain, landing ultimately on the physician’s lap. Often times a nurse is not allowed to not call a critical lab value. The problem is, what the hospital has defined as critical, does not apply to the vast majority of critical lab values reported. What’s considered critical by hospital standards, is a normal or chronic value for [that particular] patient.
Whole thing here.