November 1, 2011

Breast cancer awareness has increased significantly over the past decade. The race every September in Portland, Mother’s Day runs and mall walks to raise money have attracted more and more participants each year. The emphasis has been on early detection, and, because It’s hard to find someone whose life has not been touch by breast cancer, women are faithfully following the health guidelines by getting regular mammograms.

With the advent and growing popularity of teleradiology, it’s hard to know exactly who is reading the mammogram. As we’ve discussed in our last couple of posts, outsourcing has its proponents and its critics — and some of those critics sit on federal grand juries.

More than one case of “ghosting” has come to the attention of the courts in the past few years. In most cases, ghosting involves a physician rubber-stamping test results that he or she has never actually reviewed. Teleradiology offers the perfect opportunity, because everything, including the physician’s signature, is transmitted electronically. Hospitals are depending on their vendors to be ethical.

The situation arose outside of Oregon just last year. A woman had a mammogram and received a letter that her test results were normal. A year or so later, in April 2010, she received a call from the hospital.

They invited her to come in for a free mammogram, ASAP. The reason was vague, according to court documents, but she saw no harm in taking them up on the offer.

She noticed that a breast cancer specialist was on hand to read her scan immediately. This time, the results weren’t normal.

Within days, she and the rest of the community learned that her hospital was in hot water. No one had read her scan or about 1,300 others. Initial investigations revealed that a technician at the hospital had ghosted test results and generated the letters to patients telling them nothing was wrong. Ten women did have cancer, though.

The technician worked at the hospital. The doctors whose signatures she allegedly forged did not. They worked for a company a few towns over, but at least one of them had left the company months before the first test report was ghosted.

Continued in our next post.

Source: MSNBC, “Is a doctor reading your X-rays? Maybe not,” Katherine Eban, Oct. 26, 2011


Categories: Blog