Clerical error leads to hundreds of veterans getting wrong cancer test results

An error involving the Atlanta VA Medical Center resulted in 249 veterans getting the wrong cancer test results.

One veteran told Channel 2 news in Atlanta he first received test results that were positive for cancer. Then he got test results that were negative (and was relieved). But then, after cancelling a follow-up visit he had scheduled after getting the first results,  he received a note indicating that due to a mailing/printing error, the second (negative results) were the results from another patient and had been sent to him in error.

When he went back and looked more closely at the second notice, he saw the other patient’s name.

And he was not the only patient to receive another patient’s cancer test results.

So you’ve got disclosure of identifiable patients’ cancer test results AND the fact that you may have scared the hell out of people with false positive notices – or overly reassured them with false negatives – or sent them up and down on an emotional roller coaster.

You can call it a “clerical error,” but as errors go, I’d call it a pretty bad one.

The VA sent Channel 2 a statement:

“In May 2014, a clerical error occurred with the printing and mailing of test results for approximately 249 Veterans.  As soon as the issue was identified, we sent out a letter apologizing for the incident and provided each individual with their correct test results. An investigation was conducted and process improvements were implemented to ensure that this does not happen again.

“We have reached out to Mr. Denison and as soon as he is available we will work with him to continue the coordination of his care.

“We are sorry for any confusion and inconvenience that this may have caused our Veterans.
The Atlanta VA Medical Center is dedicated to providing world class health care to this nation’s heroes, our Veterans.”

If the VA has permission to contact those affected by phone, I’d hope they would actually call everyone who was sent false negative results to ensure that they know that their tests were actually positive for cancer and they need to follow up. And then call everyone who got false positive results to make sure they know their results really were negative.

Read more on WSB-TV.

Parenthetically, I would note that as I was reading this, I thought of LabMD, a cancer diagnostic lab in Atlanta that shuttered its doors under the burden of an FTC investigation for a P2P exposure incident and then a second incident where day sheets with no medical information were found in the possession of criminals. Whatever LabMD may – or may not have – done wrong, there is no indication that any patients received inaccurate cancer test results or received another patient’s cancer test results.

So if FTC went after LabMD, would they go after the VA Medical Center for what strikes me as a more problematic breach? I’m guessing they won’t.  And there’s something very disconcerting about that.

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