Lab tests influence about 70% of medical decisions, guiding treatments big and small: how much blood thinner should a heart-attack receive? Does the baby need antibiotics? Should you start taking cholesterol lowering medication?
Even nonmedical tests can be life-changing: employment drug screening; blood work for life insurance, paternity testing.
Long story short, the results need to be right, the consequences of a wrong result can be huge.
Unfortunately, laboratories across the nation aren’t following basic policies and procedures. These policies and procedures are designed to ensure the accuracy of test results.
Patients have no possibility of knowing if their lab is taking shortcuts. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation has found that private accrediting organizations that inspect labs fail to state serious violations that put patients’ health and lives at risk.
One of the main accreditors missed enough violations to require review by federal regulators last year.
Offending labs are rarely sanctioned even when serious violations are identified, except in the most extreme cases.
In 2013, only 90 sanctions were issued, which does not even account for 1% of the 35,000 labs that do high-level lab testing in the United States.
Accrediting organizations that police labs on behalf of the federal government are allowed to keep their inspection reports private, sometimes they are even obligated to keep the reports private pursuant to federal law.
When state and federal inspection records exist, it is difficult and time consuming to get them.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has spent months fighting for record in order to figure out what exactly happening in labs across the country.
Doctors and patients sometimes never even realize there was a mistake with a test result.
Even if the mistake is discovered, labs usually fight in court in order to avoid responsibility and accountability. Sometimes the labs even settle the cases with strict confidentiality agreements that hide the specifics of how people were harmed and who was responsible.