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Hospital laboratory errors can cause patient injuries and even death

Some hospitals are automating laboratory analysis

A Charleston, West Virginia hospital recently announced opening a fully-automated laboratory. 

Traditional hospital laboratories require a large number of technical personnel to perform tests on patient blood, urine, and other samples. The new Mountain State automated laboratory allows the hospital to perform hundreds of different lab tests in 15 minutes without much less personnel.

Of course, this is a big win for the hospital in terms of payroll cost savings, but hospital leaders also tout the fact that an automated laboratory reduces the possibilities of laboratory errors.

Laboratory errors remaining important issue in patient safety and health care.

The Joint Commission’s 2022 National Patient Safety Goals for the Laboratory Program address two important areas. As a national health care accrediting organization, The Joint Commission adopts hospital standards based on areas that need improvement in terms of patient safety.

Improve the accuracy of patient identification

Hospitals are required to use at least two patient identifiers when providing laboratory services. 

Have you given a blood sample recently? Did the phlebotomist, nurse, or tech ask you to verify your name and date of birth? Probably so. The reason is to comply with this standard.

Every day, hospital laboratories handle countless samples from numerous patients. That’s why it’s important for personnel to deliberately verify:

• They’re handling the correct order from a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant for the correct patient.

• They’re properly labeling the sample before sending it to the lab.

Patient identification errors for lab work can lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment or the wrong treatment for the wrong patient.

Improve the effectiveness of communication among caregivers 

The standard requires hospitals to report critical results of tests and diagnostic procedures on a timely basis. 

Hospital laboratory has pre-set ranges for each test. There are ranges for normal, low, high, critically low, and critically high. Critical values fall significantly outside the normal range and may indicate a life-threatening situation that requires immediate medical attention.

The purpose of this standard is to require laboratories to report critical results to the responsible for ordering physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner within a fast time frame to allow prompt medical attention and treatment.

We’ve handled cases where breakdowns in critical lab value communication led to devastating consequences for patients. 

For example, patients who have had any type of head injury or brain surgery or at risk for developing a life-threatening metabolic condition called hyponatremia. Hyponatremia means that there is a critically low level of sodium in the blood serum. This affects the amount of fluid retained in the brain and can cause deadly brain swelling. That’s what happened to a former client who was hospitalized after a surgery. Every lab test revealed that her sodium levels were lowering. Even after they reached critical values, no one informed a physician. Eventually her brain started to herniate from all swelling and she almost died. She was left with a permanent catastrophic brain injury.

Lab tests are ordered for specific reasons. It’s up to laboratory and nursing personnel to communicate critical results appropriately.

While hospital laboratory automation will not doubt improve some common lab errors, it will still be up to doctors, nurses, and other personnel to handle results correctly.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor laboratory care or communication in Texas, then contact a top-rated, experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney 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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