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Delay in treatment is one of the top healthcare sentinel events of 2020

Delays in testing can lead to diagnostic and treatment errors

The healthcare accrediting agency The Joint Commission recently announced the top 10 sentinel events reported by accredited hospitals or certified hospitals and healthcare organizations in 2020. Number four on the list was delay in treatment.

The concept of sentinel events was created by healthcare improvement professionals to focus the industry and the goal of having zero harm in health care. That’s why sentinel events are often also called never events.

Before my legal career, I was a hospital administrator. One of my responsibilities in that position was hospital compliance officer for accreditation surveys by The Joint Commission. From that experience, I know that when an accrediting organization highlights sentinel events, it gets the attention of hospital leaders.

As a medical malpractice attorney, I believe that hospital leaders are implementing education throughout the healthcare workforce to make sure that the lessons learned from sentinel events are actually learned. In other words, it’s through education and robust policies and procedures that nurses, therapists, techs, physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare providers improve patient safety.

So, let’s get back to the issue of delay in treatment.

The Joint Commission defines the delay in treatment is occurring when a patient doesn’t receive the treatment that was ordered for them in the timeframe that was supposed to be delivered. This could be administration of medication; collecting, processing, or reporting a lab sample; performing or interpreting a radiology scan; or implementing therapy.

Delays in treatment, though, go beyond these obvious missed marks. They also include situations where a patient can’t get an initial or follow-up appointment with a physician or specialist that was ordered by a physician.

The risk to patient safety is the delayed treatment can lead to a delayed diagnosis. If the patient can’t get a timely colonoscopy, it can lead to delay of discovery and resection of a cancerous polyp.

In a recent year of data from The Joint Commission, over 65% of the reported sentinel events for led to the death of the patient. A physician study revealed that the most common missed or delayed diagnoses include: pulmonary embolism, drug reactions or overdose, colon-rectal cancer, acute coronary syndrome, breast cancer, and stroke. That study found that most errors occurred in the testing phase, where things fell through gaps in the ordering, reporting, and follow-up stages of laboratory studies.

From my experience, I believe that one of the best ways to avoid a delay in treatment is to have more individualized attention of doctors and nurses on individual patients. In other words, instead of relying on auto-populated electronic medical records, physicians and providers should interact in conversations with the patients to make sure recommended follow-up tests and consultations actually occurred.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of a delay in treatment in Texas, then contact a top-rated experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer for free consultation about your potential case.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.


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