4,000 Echocardiograms not read at Harlem Hospital

May 26, 2010 3:30:09 PM PDT
Harlem Hospital has disciplined two doctors after they never looked at the echocardiograms performed on thousands of patients. The hospital is now reaching out to nearly 4,000 patients whose heart test results were never read, and that may have put their health at risk.

Some patients at Harlem Hospital said they were not surprised by the news that thousands of tests went unread, but they're not happy about it either.

"That's horrible! 4,000 patients, that's a lot of patients. I am not going back in there," said Emma Ward, a Harlem Hospital patient.

According to the city's Health and Hospital Corporation, which runs Harlem Hospital, nearly 4,000 echocardiograms were never read by doctors over the last three years, that's more than half of them.

An echocardiogram can be a potential lifesaver if you are at risk for a heart attack or heart disease.

"Because it helps us to make a diagnosis, of whether or not a person has a severely narrowed or leaking heart valve, if someone has fluid around their heart," said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association.

In this case, city officials say the hospital had developed a system in which technicians were supposed to red-flag any tests that looked abnormal and give them priority.

That did occur, but the rest of the tests were put aside in a computer, and forgotten, until now.

In a statement, the corporation president said: "While the process the doctors followed may have alerted cardiologists to those echocardiograms that were most likely to be abnormal, the failure to read echocardiograms in a timely manner is inexcusable and may have placed patients at risk."

Patient advocates say this raises the question: Were the tests even needed in the first place?

"If testing is necessary than how can we be so sloppy with the results? Testing is expensive, it often puts the patient at risk, it costs a lot of money, and they may have to pay out of pocket for some of this," said Art Levin, of the Center for Medical Consumers.

Although some patients were shocked, they say they still give the hospital high marks.

"Because they are wonderful as far as I'm concerned, they take good care of me," said Christina Butler, a Harlem Hospital patient.