Privacy fears over AWOL test results lead to action (NZ Doctor)

Confidential patient test results, including for HIV and STIs, are being delivered to the wrong surgeries in the Bay of Plenty, says GP Allan McDougall, and he says the system needs to change.

Dr McDougall, who works in two separate practices, says wayward test results have been a persistent problem for the past few years and it’s getting worse. He’s so fed up he has complained to the privacy commissioner.

The lab test company, Pathlab, admits there have been problems with some results being sent to wrong locations, largely due to mistakes with transcribing manual request forms. It has initiated an internal investigation.

Dr McDougall practises at the Kopeopeo Health Centre in Whakatane and the Whaka­tohea Health Centre in Opotiki.

He says emailed test results are often sent to his inbox at the wrong location and paper copies are sent to the wrong address.

The problem affects between five and 10 patients a week, he says. He has experienced the same problem with Whakatane hospital’s x-ray services.

Dr McDougall believes there are clear privacy issues. Confidential test results sometimes get picked up by office staff in a different location, rather than going directly to him.

At Pathology Associates Ltd, Pathlab’s parent company, chief executive Dianne McQueen says the issue of doctors working from multiple locations is an ongoing one for all laboratories. Location errors are an acknowledged problem, Ms McQueen says.

“Laboratory request forms are generated from different systems and in differing formats,” she says, in an emailed statement.

“Compounding this, as in Dr McDougall’s case, we can receive forms from the same doctor working in different practices. Information on these forms is transcribed into the laboratory system by data entry staff. These forms are inherently difficult to read, and measures to standardise forms between GP systems have failed.”

Ms McQueen says Pathlab has been aware of several issues with wrong report destinations for Dr McDougall, but this was not recognised as anything other than a “sporadic” issue with data entry.

“An internal investigation has been initiated as it seems this was occurring more often,” she says. But even with a wrong location, the report is still sent to the correct doctor, Ms McQueen says. “So although this is an inconvenience, there are no privacy issues.”

She says electronic ordering will solve the problem and Pathlab started rolling out a new software system late last year.

Bay of Plenty DHB says it has been assured by Pathlab that patient privacy has not been compromised by the issues arising from Dr McDougall working from two different clinics, as all results were directed to Dr McDougall.

“The implementation of a new electronic ordering system by Pathlab will eliminate this issue for all of those who take advantage of the technology,” a DHB spokesperson says in an email to New Zealand Doctor

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