HARLEM — In what city officials termed an “inexcusable” lapse, as many as 4,000 patients screened for heart problems at Harlem Hospital were never evaluated because their test results were put aside and forgotten, the New York Times reported.
The episode, which was discovered during a routine survey of the hospital’s computer system, “may have put some patients at risk,” Alan Aviles, president of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, said in a statement to the Times.
The hospital sacked its chief of medicine, Dr. Alfred Ashford, hours after the Times broke the story Tuesday, and demoted its medical director, Dr. Glendon Henry. The hospitals corporation said in a statement that both physicians have already been reported to the state agency that deals with professional misconduct.
Some of the diagnostic test results date back as long as three years, the Times reported. The tests, called echocardiograms, use ultrasound to create images of heart muscle and valves.
Officials attributed the fiasco to an in-house data management system in which technicians were authorized to review the tests and notify cardiologists of results that clearly indicated a problem. But for reasons still unclear, the technicians transferred inconclusive or negative test data into a little-used computer directory, the Times said.
The long-lost test results were reportedly discovered by a group of cardiologists assigned to Harlem Hospital by Columbia University, an affiliate.
Hospital corporation officials said as many as 20 doctors from various city hospitals had been deputized to begin reviewing the test results on Friday, and that all patients would be contacted as swiftly as possible, according to the Times' article. As of Wednesday, some 1500 of the 4000 tests had been evaluated and none indicated a need for medical attention, a hospital spokesmen said.
Harlem Hospital administers about 2500 echocardiograms a year, which indicates that half of all its tests were never evaluated during the three years in question, according to the Times. It was not immediately known who had devised the screening system.