Prostate cancer test interpretation flawed
A computer programming error caused West Penn Allegheny Health System's laboratory to send physicians incorrect interpretations of prostate cancer tests for 288 patients over 15 months.
Hospital officials say physicians who ordered the tests were advised about the errors in recent weeks. They were sent revised, corrected interpretations, said Dr. Jan F. Silverman, chairman of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.
Silverman said actual test results were correct, and most physicians would rely on those and not interpretations. He said hospital officials found no evidence that incorrect test interpretations resulted in delayed or improper care.
The health system was following up with phone calls to physicians, who include primary care doctors and urologists, he said.
The erroneous interpretations were provided on a test physicians use to assess whether patients need biopsies of their prostates. The test provides a comparison of total prostate specific antigen, or PSA, versus free or non-attached PSA.
Dr. Ralph Miller, head of the Allegheny Prostate Cancer Center, said it was "theoretically possible, but very, very unlikely" that erroneous interpretations resulted in delayed or improper care.
Silverman said those interpretations were sent between Oct. 1, 2008 and January. Of 818 PSA tests the West Penn Allegheny Core Laboratory performed during that period, 412 included comparisons of the two PSA figures. Of those, 288 included incorrect interpretations of that ratio, Silverman said.
Miller said he does not use the comparison in his practice, although some urologists and primary care physicians do. He said some doctors find it useful for determining whether a higher than normal PSA reading warrants a biopsy to test for prostate cancer.
The comparison is one of several tests available to determine whether to perform a biopsy, Miller said. The PSA blood test and a digital exam are primary baseline tests to detect prostate cancer, he said.
The programming error was discovered recently when a physician questioned an interpretation, Silverman said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.