Pathologists’ liability stems primarily from quality control and communication problems. Pathologists depend on the attending physician for the collection of samples to be analyzed. When mistakes in labeling result in a patient with a benign condition being subjected to a mutilating surgical procedure, or a serious condition being misdiagnosed, lawsuits are inevitable. Pathologists should ensure that samples are unambiguously labeled upon receipt, when it may still be possible to correct mistakes. If there is any question about the origin of a sample, the attending physician must be notified at once.
Pathologists should follow the same procedures as radiologists to determine that significant laboratory findings are received and appreciated by the attending physician. This is particularly important for rapidly evolving conditions or life- threatening conditions. This type of information should be handled differently from information that is not time critical. Pathologists who practice alone in small laboratories should see to it that the laboratory has formal mechanisms for communicating time-critical information. If the communication of these results depends on ad hoc calls to the attending physician by the pathologist, there is a high probability that the system will break down if a substitute pathologist fills in during a vacation or illness.