Photo/IllutrationMichiko Aihara, second from left, director of the Yokohama City University Hospital, on June 25 explains the events that led to the death of a patient in his 60s in April. (Naoto Iizuka)

Two men in Yokohama died of cancer that was left untreated because doctors failed to properly share information about the patients’ conditions, a communication problem that has hit hospitals around the nation.

In one case, a man in his 60s died in April this year after his untreated cancer, first detected in 2012, spread through his body over a more than five- year period, the Yokohama City University Hospital acknowledged on June 25.

“If we had checked the patient in detail when we found the suspected cancer through a computer tomography (CT) examination (in 2012), we could have conducted surgery,” Michiko Aihara, the hospital’s director, said. “We failed to share information in our hospital.”

According to the hospital, a CT examination also revealed pancreatic cancer in a man in his 70s at the Yokohama City University Medical Center in 2017.

However, that information was not shared for about five months, and the man died in October.

Both the university hospital in Kanazawa Ward and the medical center in Minami Ward have since confirmed a total of 11 cases in which vital information, including signs of cancer, about patients obtained through diagnostic imaging was not immediately shared between doctors.

The nine cases at the hospital included the death of the man in his 60s.

In other incidents, the delay in treatment led to more complicated surgeries.

The medical facilities in Yokohama are not the only ones experiencing such problems. Similar reports have surfaced around the country.

Sosuke Kimura, a director of the Japan Medical Safety Research Organization, said technological developments in medical equipment have increased the amount of available information about patients and made sharing by doctors more complicated.

“It is a problem with the system rather than doctors’ lack of attention,” he said. “It is necessary to deal with the problem as an organization.”

The man in his 60s had regularly visited the university hospital’s cardiovascular internal medicine department in 2012 for his heart disease.

In October that year, he underwent a CT examination to prepare for treatment using a catheter for his heart problems.

A doctor at the hospital’s radiology department checked the CT images and detected signs of kidney cancer in the patient. The next day, the doctor worked out a report on the findings.

However, the doctor did not directly convey the information to the doctor at the cardiovascular internal medicine department who was in charge of the patient.

The patient’s doctor received the CT images showing the area around the heart but failed to notice the report written by the radiology department doctor that was carried on the patient’s electronic medical record.

In March this year, the man was admitted to the university hospital for suspected lung cancer, which was found in CT examination conducted at a different medical institution.

At that time, the university hospital found the CT images taken in 2012. During the more than five years of nontreatment, the cancer had apparently spread from his kidney to his lungs. He died in April.

In two other cases at the university hospital, doctors removed cancerous growths from patients through abdominal surgery. If the information about their conditions had been shared earlier, the doctors could have performed the operations with endoscopes without opening the abdomens.

The university hospital’s survey found 568 cases in which doctors did not confirm reports on findings from diagnostic imaging in the year until June 2017.

It is customary for doctors at the hospital’s radiology department to convey the results of diagnostic imaging directly to doctors at other departments by phone. But the method is not stipulated as an in-house rule.

The Japan Council for Quality Health Care, which analyzes medical accidents, said it uncovered 36 cases of doctors failing to confirm diagnostic imaging reports from January 2015 to March 2018.

According to the council, in many of the cases, the cancer left untreated was found in parts of the body that were not the main focus of the examination.

The Jikei University Hospital in Tokyo began to show reports on the findings of diagnostic imaging to patients in April this year, in response to a medical accident that led to a patient’s death.

“If patients can also confirm the images, the number of cases in which cancer is left as is will decrease,” said Masakazu Miyawaki, chairman of Iryo-kago Genkoku no Kai (Group of plaintiffs for errors in medical treatments). “I hope that (medical institutions) will spread measures to promote safety in medical treatments in cooperation with their patients.”

(This article was written by Hiroyuki Takei, Shuichi Doi, Mutsumi Mitobe and Yu Kotsubo.)