A wrong laboratory report!

Dr A S Bhatia
What A wrong laboratory report, can do to your physical and mental existence, I experienced a few days back. My brother Inderjeet Singh Bhatia was leaving for Canada along with his wife after attaining superannuation from the bank services and decided to spend some time with their children who are settled in Canada. As they were expected to be there for a year, I asked them to get medically investigated as it is very difficult to get medical consultation in these so called developed countries, where you have to wait for months to get an appointment from a Doctor ! All tests were done and as he was complaining of backache so a CT Scan was also done a day before his flight to Canada. One of my orthopedic friends advised few tests after going through the CT Scan report. So the next morning, as he was to board the flight, I asked my technician to take the blood sample and send it to laboratory and he took his flight and left.
Four days later, I received the lab results from a well known diagnostic laboratory from outside the state indicating that my brother was suspected to be suffering form a type of deadly life threatening disease! Although in my medical career spanning over thirty years, I have experienced this situation a number of times , but this time it seems that my world was lost! My elder brother has been my mentor throughout my life , even at this stage he is my guide. I could not believe and with tears in my eyes I shared the news with Harleen, my ever best companion, my wife. “Call Big B back”, was her instant response. It was only less than a week that they have landed in Canada, calling them back without citing a reasonable reason was a difficult task. How to break the news that he was suspected to have suffered from life threatening disease! The whole family was emotionally shattered! I received call from my daughter, a financially self empowered girl child, for all financial help to bade papa for the best possible treatment, Harleen came out with her cheque book, I wondered about the beauty of Indian family system, a strong social, financial and emotional security!
Next difficult thing was to call him back to India; It took us another two to three days to settle our self and to break the news to them. We decided to tell the whole story to Simarjeet , elder son and a well settled engineer in Canada. He was calm and composed showing the level of emotional maturity. However we decided not to tell Inderjeet about the diagnosis till further investigations are done.Some how we managed to call him back to India. Next few days were full of stress , A series of new tests and also the previous tests were repeated from two different labs of National Repute. The reports were expected to come on third day. These were the most stressful days, I ever felt in my life. We were talking to each other in the family and the smile on our faces was a forced one and fake also. Everyone in the family was pretending to behave normally but was hiding a storm inside with many unforeseen fears, fear of losing someone very near and dear to all of us; it was all suffocating and killing feeling! Two anxious days passed in deadly silence with hand always folded and praying to GOD, the Almighty for good health of BADE PAPA!
“JEET, the report has come, please see it , it seems to be different!” shouted Harleen. I hurriedly went through the reports received from two different laboratories, Both were absolutely normal with no parameter indicating any cancer. Tears started rolling down the eyes of Harleen, she embraced me forcefully and started crying loudly, these tears were of getting escaped from the impending doom’s day! No one could ever know what emotional trauma our family went through for ten days, just because of a wrong laboratory report! The nightmare was over but not before it left its traumatic mark on our psyche. Few days after, Inderjeet left for Canada but not before undergoing tremendous mental stress and constantly living for few days under the fear of a deadly disease. But I could see the courage and positive attitude, he kept on laughing and making all of us to participate in his talks, maybe he was trying to allay the fear of something shocking to happen in near future from our minds! It is rightly said, “All is well that ends well.” Now it was the time for us to ponder about the impact of a wrong laboratory report on a patient and the family around him. This single wrong report caused a huge financial loss of travelling from Canada to India and Back to Canada along with the emotional torture, the entire family had to go through! The whole episode has caused anxiety, anger, resentment and more serious long lasting psychological effects. The patient had lost faith and will not be willing to undergo future investigations! These feelings of anger, resentment, confusion, frustration and a sense of helplessness were experienced by the entire family and not by the patient only! Many friends advised me to sue the lab, but in my opinion litigation is no solution to such problems which are done unintentionally, as the core part of the Hippocratic Oath is, “First do no harm” and I believe all the health care providers work hard to uphold this dictum.
As an expert in the field of Lab diagnostics with more thirty years of experience in human diagnostics, I feel that all those involved in the field of laboratories need to have an introspection on the quality of services being provided to the common masses. There is no question of doubt about the infrastructure these people have, but the million dollar question is the passage, a blood sample has to travel from a collection point to the main machine. Error can be at the time of collection and labeling, wrong numbering, putting a wrong bar code , mixing of samples , and many more which are beyond the control of the person working on machine! In my opinion these modern analytical machines, if accurately calibrated will never give a wrong result.
So all laboratory professionals need to conduct regular refresher courses for their employees recruited in the collection centers, repeated random internal quality check needs to be taken up by the local franchise being monitored by the head offices. We should owe the responsibility of giving accurate high end diagnostic services to the common masses. In my opinion all laboratories dealing with human diagnostics should put an extra effort to maintain the quality of work and any report suggesting life threatening disease should be released only after reconfirmation of the test by repeating it before it lands in the hand of patients. These errors can be easily eliminated if a proper eagle’s eye is kept on the test sample, right from the time it is drawn from the patient, monitoring its passage from the laboratory to the analytical machine and analyzing it before it is issued to the patient. We as medical professionals own a lot to our patients, their physical health and the impact of our actions on their mental health, we need to be very vigilant while dealing with them, to take utmost care in what we speak, the tone in which we speak, the body language we show while dealing with them, they are not our customers but are the people who still see and treat doctors as next to GOD!
Otherwise as Mirza Ghalib said,

Umar bhar Ghalib yahi bhool karta raha,
Dhool chehre pe thi aur aina saaf karta raha !!
(The author is Principal Govt Medical College Rajouri.)

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