The same DNA tests which are used to catch criminals are now being used to prevent doctors from operating on the wrong patients.
Strand Analytical Laboratories, based in Indianapolis, spends more of its time helping solve false positives on cancer biopsies.
About six years ago, the company switched its focus from DNA tests on crime scene evidence to hospital DNA evidence. The switch occurred when the company’s leaders saw a news report about a patient who had unnecessary prostate surgery. The patient’s biopsy was switched with that of another man who did have prostate cancer.
Unfortunately, these types of events are surprisingly common and the effects can be severe.
The Know Error system tests specimens that come back positive to make sure they belong to the putative patient. This system has been used on about 175,000 patients who have undergone breast and prostate biopsies. About 6% of all prostate biopsies and 1% of all breast biopsies use the Know Error system and the company would like to see that expand.
According to the founder of the lab, the Strand test turns up an error about every week. Errors can include contaminated samples of samples that simply get switched.
A study will be published in the April issue of the Journal of Urology documents just how common and costly mix-ups. Some medical malpractice law firms specialize in such cases.
The most recent study done by Strand Diagnostics found that these types of mistakes happen in about .25% of all prostate biopsies, leading to misdiagnosis in about .57% or about 1 in every 200 patients. The data shows that this results in an estimated $879.9 million in wasted medical treatment costs of which $694.8 million comes in medical legal expenditures.
The conclusion is that this system could save significant amounts of money and emotional turmoil both for the patient who undergoes unnecessary surgery and the patient whose correct positive cancer diagnosis may be delayed.