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System Keeps Scan Results From Going Astray

Lost or misdirected MRI, CT scans can have devastating consequences for patients

THURSDAY, March 30, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- An automated coding system that tracks medical imaging test results helps prevent scans from getting lost in the shuffle -- something that could have dire consequences for a patient if a scan detects signs of cancer or other serious health problems.

The new system was designed and tested for a year by radiologists at the University of Michigan Health System and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

"We know anecdotally that these problems happen around the country, and in fact they are the source of abundant malpractice litigation," researcher Dr. Charles Marn, chief of radiology at the Ann Arbor VA and associate professor of radiology at the University of Michigan Medical school, said in a prepared statement.

"We developed this system after a situation that occurred at our own institution, and this one-year experience already shows that it has helped. We hope that other hospitals can use these findings to develop their own responses to this issue, especially as they implement computerized radiology systems," Marn said.

He and his colleagues designed a system of codes that radiologists assign to each medical image as electronic "tags." This study focused on scans with a "Code 8" tag, indicating that the radiologist detected an unexpected sign of cancer that required immediate follow-up by the patient's doctor.

The Code 8 scans were reported to the patient's doctor via both a written report and a phone call to alert the doctor about the unexpected sign of cancer. As further insurance, a staff member once a week checked the computerized records tagged with Code 8s in order to see if each of those patients had received follow-up care. If not, the staff member contacted the patient's doctor and the hospital's cancer care group.

The year-long study of 395 Code 8s found that this automated system prevented eight patients with serious signs of trouble on their scans (including five who turned out to have cancer) from falling through the cracks.

The study appears in the April issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology.

More information

The Radiological Society of North America has more about medical imaging.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, March 2006
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