More than half of the estimated 937 mammograms at Perry Hospital ordered to be redone have been completed, a Houston Healthcare attorney says.
That number could change as the hospital continues to investigate and review records but for now, the scope of the problem appears to be limited to mammograms done at Perry Hospital between late 2008 through early 2010, said Victor Moldovan, an Atlanta attorney representing Houston Healthcare. Perry Hospital is operated by Houston Healthcare.
The discovery of an anomaly April 2 resulted in a radiation technician coming forward April 5 confessing that she signed off on mammograms as if she were the radiologist, Moldovan said. The woman was sent home that afternoon and dismissed April 6, he said.
The technician, who conducted mammogram tests, logged on from her computer work station as a radiologist and signed off on the mammograms that were never read by an actual radiologist. She had access to pass codes of radiologists. All pass codes of physicians have been reset since the discovery, Moldovan said.
Never miss a local story.
Because of the “strange” behavior of the technician, the problem was believed to be limited to reports generated from her computer station, Moldovan said. An audit was also done of mammograms at other Houston Healthcare facilities, and the problem was found to be limited to reports generated from her work station, Moldovan said.
Moldovan declined to comment on whether any of those retested have had positive readings for cancer, citing in part an ongoing investigation by Perry police to determine whether there was any criminal conduct by the technician. He also declined to comment on the circumstances that led to the discovery of the anomaly.
Moldovan said that whether any of the women who have been retested decide to reveal publicly the findings will be up to the women and their physicians. Once retesting is done and after the criminal investigation, Houston Healthcare may release a final assessment on what happened, Moldovan said.
How much it is costing Houston Healthcare is not yet known and would be premature to say at this juncture, he said.
The costs of the new tests and then the reading by a radiologist are being done at no cost to the patients involved and instead are being absorbed by Houston Healthcare, Moldovan said. Up to 10 Houston Healthcare personnel have been assigned to the process, and an independent radiologist is on site at Perry Hospital conducting the readings, he said.
The way it normally works, Moldovan explained, is that a physician issues an order for a mammogram and the patient schedules it with the hospital. A technician does the mammogram, and the film is to be read by a radiologist. The radiologist issues a report that goes to the physician. If all clear, the patient also receives a notice stating that from the hospital. If there is a problem, the referring physician’s office contacts the patient.
Normally, radiologists, independent contractors, come to the hospital to review the mammograms done by radiation technicians, Moldovan said.
As a result, a radiologist, who simply reads the mammograms but does not deal directly with the patient, would not know that he or she hadn’t reviewed one that he or she should have, said Moldovan. The radiologist simply reads the film placed before him or her.
The fact that something like this even happened in the first place is indicative that the technician was adept at hiding what she was doing, Moldovan said.
In December 2009, the hospital went digital, which meant the films could be transmitted electronically off site. Most radiologists, however, continued to come to Perry Hospital to read the films. In the future, the plan is to have the films read at the Houston Health Pavilion, also part of Houston Healthcare, Moldovan said.
Once the problem surfaced in early April, the hospital began notifying patients by phone or letter, with the hospital’s first priority to ensure the patients were contacted as quickly as possible, Moldovan said. After most were contacted, the hospital issued a public statement, he said.
There are some patients whom the hospital has not been able to contact, and steps are being taken to locate them, including hiring a third party to find them if necessary, Moldovan said.
Meanwhile, an internal administrative team is reviewing what happened, Moldovan said. He declined to name those who are on the team conducting the internal review. Also, there have been no settlements, pending settlements or litigation filed against Houston Healthcare at this time in relation to the mammogram issue, Moldovan said.
The hospital’s primary focus remains on the affected patients and taking care of them as best possible, Moldovan said.
Moldovan encouraged anyone who has a concern and has not already been contacted to call (478) 975-6500.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.