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A "Lab" Horror Story

Betsydoglover's picture
Posts: 1256
Joined: Jul 2005

Hi all -

Well maybe this isn't exactly a horror story, but if you have ever had Lab work done at Quest Diagnostics, I suggest you no longer do that.

Here's my tale........

As some of you know NIH has been evaluating me. As part of that they wanted my blood work - CBC, Chemistry, CEA from the time of diagnosis. Well, I got copies of CBC and Chem with no problem from my colorectal surgeon. CEA was no where to be found in his files (I had never asked about my initial CEA - too much to take care of in the 2 weeks between diagnosis and surgery.) Both the doc and the nurse searched my record separately - no CEA from last May. (They also searched the records of the 2 other patients with the same name as mine - no luck.)

So, I was told to call Quest. After almost 1 hour on the phone the bottom line is the following:

1) Quest had an order to draw blood for CEA on 5/25/05 (yes - I KNEW that)

2) Quest drew blood for the CEA on 5/25/05 (again, I KNEW that!)

3) Quest apparently (by their own admission) never ran the test!

What the H&%@*???????????

The person on the phone acted as if this was a not abnormal occurrence!

I have problems on so many levels with this:

1) Quest actually billed my insurance and they paid for a test that was never done. Wow.

2) Quest took blood and never did the ordered test! Double Wow!

3) Surgeon ordered a pretty standard test for someone with a CRC diagnosis and then apparently was so uninterested in the results that he never even noticed that he didn't get them! Triple WOW! (Except that my CEA has been virtually zero since 2 weeks post surgery, so it may have never been a good marker for me. But, still, so what?! - he could not have known that in advance.)

So, add this to your list of things to worry about. Just because a lab takes blood and just because they bill you apparently does not mean that they necessarily did anything with the blood they took!

Geeze! (pardon me!)


Moesimo's picture
Posts: 1080
Joined: Aug 2003

That is a lab horror story, but I would wonder why your docs didn't notice where the results were so the test could have been reordered. I saw many different docs, primary care,
2 surgeons, oncologist, radiation doc, Gi doc who did endoscopic ultrasound. They all wanted to know results of my CEA.


Betsydoglover's picture
Posts: 1256
Joined: Jul 2005

Maureen - I agree with you, except my oncologist took my CEA 10 days after surgery and it was 0.5! So, I think she was not especially interested as it didn't seem to be a clear marker. Same with my internist - by the time he saw it it was 0.5. (Now it is even closer to zero, but as I understand it 0.5 is effectively zero). So I understand why my onc / internist didn't pursue this. Just can't get why the doc who ordered the test didn't notice that no results ever came back.

Anyway, no more Quest for me!


Posts: 719
Joined: Feb 2005

Hi Betsy - I am so sorry for this hassle and I really feel for your frustration.
But I have to ask a hard question to you, and that is: Where were you during this time? I know you were sick and confused and full of worry and anxiety about a new and horrid diagnosis. But, we have to ask for all of the information - as in what tests are scheduled and what they will show, and then do our own follow-up checklist for results. If we cannot do it, then we have to ask for someone to advocate for us. There is no reason why the test should have fallen through the cracks; clearly, your doc should have noticed the lack of results and called the lab or asked for a new sample of your blood. But we should also be asking about each test and every result form these tests.
Please know that I am not trying to be harsh with you in any way; I know that you were under a huge amount of stress and all of the terms of the tests were new. I also know that this is 'after the fact' and the CEA before surgery would only be giving your docs info about how your body reacts...whether a CEA is a good guide for them to use now and in the future (although my gastro did tell me that a CEA may present logically for one tumor - be there and then go away after the tumor is removed - but not another...ughh).
Your post is great because it tells us to not let any stone be left unturned and that we cannot leave our results to others. Pick up printouts of the results to anythng and everything as soon as they are available - before your appt to review them with the doc. Have your own set. They are yours and the hospital or lab or office must print them out for you. Read them and take them with you to every appt. We are not stupid or illiterate and by know we can understand any pathology, surgery, lab, CT, PET, or ultrasound report and we can compare one to another to get a feel for how our body is handling the any situation.
Again, you did your best at the given time and you found a glitch which was not life-threatening...the surgeon didn't forget to do anything! I think it is just a great lesson for you and all of us... All the best and take care.
I think that there are good and bad everywhere(docs, nurses, lab techs...blah, blah, blah).It is so easy to label an agency and/or their personnel as bad or incompetent; but, we have to be heads up too.
Take care and I hope stuff like this never happens to you again,
- Maura - who learned th hard way as well to take a look at everything and who now has freakin' binders of test results....

spongebob's picture
Posts: 2598
Joined: Apr 2003


But then again, if they're on contract to NIH, it's a government contract - which typically goes to the lowest bidder...

As with most government expenditures; you get what you pay for.

- SB (yes... a sometimes disgruntled government employee)

JoyceCanada's picture
Posts: 134
Joined: Mar 2006

I have the worst possible lab screw up.
1) my first biopsy came back as benign.
2) 1 month after my operation went for what I believed was my final check-up and my "clean bill of health". Surgeon pulls my file and my lab reports had only arrived the day before with the results of stage III x 2 lymph nodes possitive.

Here I was thinking everything was fine and dandy no news for 1 month must be good news??


I didn't receive any apology from the Labs - just an ooops mistakes happen!!

nanuk's picture
Posts: 1362
Joined: Dec 2003

an excellent argument for being proactive; learn to read diagnostics, get copies of all records, and correct the errors, which I might add, I have found in almost every record. What they hear is not always what they dictate..

Posts: 297
Joined: Apr 2004

Hi Betsy,
You know, nothing really surprises me anymore. What bothers me is that these mistakes have such a impact on our lives. I have a horror story that might have a touch of providence. They found a "tumor" in my pelvis. We ordered an emergency PET scan. Nothing lit up. I was told the tumor-looking mass was scar tissue. I had an already scheduled hernia operation a few days after the PET. The surgeon decided to biopsy the tumor. It came back positive for recurrent colon cancer. He also found another small tumor on my intestine.
If I did not have this hernia surgery, I just can't imagine what would be going on in my body for months. My onc could only say the PET scans are not 100%. Somebody must have his/her eyes watching me. This whole experience was a nightmare. Betsy, I hope these people get their acts together. We trust medical people so much, but these added mistakes really take us for a spin. Terri

KathiM's picture
Posts: 8077
Joined: Aug 2005

Here's another one. Not really to do with the lab, but horror none the less.
I was always (still am) vigilant about getting copies of all lab results, pathology reports, etc. Everything was fine until
1) my car was broken into, and along with my 3 month old laptop, my ENTIRE colon cancer folder was stolen.....what a bunch of jerks!
2)My mammograms for the last 3 years "mysteriously" disappeared from my surgeon's office (still haven't tracked those down)
3)2 weeks before my needle biopsy for adenocarcinoma, I received a letter from a mammogram a week earlier saying "We find no evidence of cancer".!!!!!!
Just reminds us all that WE are our own best advocate. Still, its a shame that we have to deal with all this AND fight the beast!!!!

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