Radiology is field within medicine that deals primarily with the interpretation of diagnostic films such as x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, sonograms and other forms of imaging of the body. Radiologists review these images for signs of anything from broken bones and tumors to internal bleeding and paralysis. Over the course of the last two decades, radiologists are among the most sued health care providers when it comes to medical malpractice cases. In most of these cases, it is alleged that the radiologist misinterpreted or misread the scan. In our experience, radiology cases most often fall into one of two categories: missed cancerous tumors or missed injuries to the spinal cord leading to paralysis. The failure to diagnose a cancerous tumor can often be fatal because the patient will often not get a repeat set of radiology scan for months or even years after the erroneously read set of scans, and this passage of time can cause a patient to go from a position of more likely than not to survive their cancer to a position in which they are more likely than not to die from their cancer. Of course, how aggressive the cancerous tumor is that was missed (i.e., how quickly it is growing or changing from a low grade to a high grade tumor) plays a role in the significance of the misread film. At Silverman Thompson, our lawyers routinely handle cases in which radiologists fail to spot bone tumors, fail to correctly diagnose bone fractures as having been caused by an underlying tumor, fail to diagnose lung nodules on chest radiographs or breast tumors during mammograms.
A recent study reported that nearly 12 percent of radiology errors results in some harm to the patient. Because an early diagnosis can be crucial to a patient’s treatment course and eventual survival, it is easy to see why radiation errors can prove to be so harmful to patients. In addition to a radiologist misreading a film or study, errors can occur in a more traditional way, namely, miscommunication between the radiologist and physician who ordered the study. For example, radiologists are trained to immediately report potentially harmful results directly to the ordering physician by telephone or fax, if need be. If the radiologist merely reports his findings in the patient’s chart and does not let the physician know, a delay in treatment could occur and result in injury to the patient. Another common error that we see is where a radiologist fails to include within their differential diagnosis (list of potential causes of an observed abnormality on a film) the actual later confirmed cause of the abnormality despite it being one of the most frequent causes of that type of observed abnormality. This failure, usually results in the physician not considering this potential cause in his / her own differential diagnosis. Finally, many radiology errors occur because the scans that are obtained are not “optimal” or readable by the radiologist (because the patient was moving during the testing or they had some sort of bodily implant (metal) that obscured the area in question), but the radiologist goes ahead and gives an interpretation notwithstanding the poor film quality, and that interpretation turns out to be erroneous. The failure of the radiologist to indicate in his /her report that the scans were sub-optimal and therefore alert the physician that another set of scans should be ordered is often times the negligence in question.