Simple system helps with appropriate patient follow-up

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A “safety net” system can catch the few patients whose imaging study results fall through the cracks, according to a study published in the April issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Health System and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System reported the results from their first year using an innovative automatic system at the Ann Arbor VA hospital. They developed a system of codes that radiologists could assign to each medical image as electronic “tags.” The study focused on scans that received a “Code 8” tag, meaning that the radiologist spotted an unexpected sign of cancer that required immediate follow-up by the patient’s own physician.

Of the 37,736 medical images made at the VA in the one-year study period, 395 received Code 8s, and 360 of those patients’ computerized records showed that they had appropriate follow-up within two weeks. Follow-up showed that 25 patients had indeed received further care, one died, and one declined further care. The other eight patients would have fallen through the cracks without the code system; five of them had malignant cancer.