Hospital admits biopsy blunder

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am

Wrong patient treated for prostate cancer

A mix-up of biopsy results at Tung Wah Hospital resulted in a 72-year-old man receiving two months of radiology treatment for non-existent prostate cancer and delayed the cancer diagnosis of a 69-year-old patient.

Tung Wah Hospital said yesterday the results of the biopsy examinations on the two were swapped after the patients went to the hospital to check prostate problems on January 26 last year, leading to the patients receiving the wrong diagnoses.

The 72-year-old man was told he had prostate cancer and referred to Queen Mary Hospital for a two-month course of radiology.

The 69-year-old man, whose incorrect result indicated he did not have cancer, continued having routine checks at the hospital for several months before he received another biopsy examination in October last year, which showed he had prostate cancer and should have surgery.

The blunder was spotted on Friday last week by a urologist who reviewed the 69-year-old patient's medical records in preparation for the surgery.

The urologist discovered the discrepancies between the two examination results taken last year.

The chief executive of Tung Wah Hospital, Tom Kam-tim, said further verification had confirmed that the specimen taken in January last year did not belong to the 69-year-old man and had been swapped with that of the 72-year-old patient.

'We have contacted both patients and they are now in stable conditions,' Dr Tom said.

The hospital had made apologies to the patients and their families, who expressed understanding about the mistake, he said.

Tam Po-chor, urology consultant at Queen Mary Hospital, said the 72-year-old patient had suffered few side effects from the unnecessary radiology treatment.

'The patient used to have a problem of frequent micturition [urination], but we are happy to know he has got rid of it now,' Dr Tam said.

Regarding the 69-year-old patient, he said the hospital had carried out a bone scan and a magnetic resonance imaging scan on him, which showed his cancer had not spread far.

'Prostate cancer is usually a slow-developing cancer, so a delay of several months [in diagnosis] should have little effect on his situation,' Dr Tam said, adding that the hospital would assist him with future treatment.

Tung Wah Hospital had reported the incident to the Hospital Authority and a cross-department investigation panel would be established to follow up on the blunder.

The investigation report is expected to be completed and submitted to the authority in six weeks.

Dr Tam said preliminary investigations showed seven patients had received prostate biopsy examinations at Tung Wah Hospital on January 26 last year, and the swap was the only mix-up at the hospital over the past 15 years.

'At this stage, we do not yet know whether it was caused by a mix-up of labelling or specimen and whether it was a system mistake or a human error,' Dr Tam said.

'We immediately reported this matter to relevant departments of our hospital and improved the examination system to prevent such things from happening again.'