Radiology Pros Not Immune to Malpractice

DiagnosticImaging | Medical malpractice isn’t reserved to surgeons and obstetricians. Radiologists and their staff also face litigation and must understand the laws and the risks they face.

“Yes, it does really happen in imaging,” said Marie Fredrick, RT (R), CRA, MJ, a vice president at Mary Washington Healthcare in Fredericksburg, Va., speaking this week at the 2012 annual meeting of AHRA, the association for medical imaging management.

According to a 2011 New England Journal of Medicine report, about 7 percent of diagnostic radiologists face claims each year, just less than all physicians. Neurosurgery sees the highest proportion of claims, at 19 percent, and psychiatry has the lowest rate at 2.6 percent.

Claims against radiologists tend to be over errors in interpretation, informed consent issues, and failure to communicate results in a timely manner, Fredrick said. There are often cases involving equipment injury, such as MRI burns and procedural injuries.

And remember, any medical professional can be held for malpractice, not just physicians, she added. In fact, as an administrator, Fredrick said she was named in a failure to diagnose suit because the office couldn’t find a set of images for the patient whose family was suing.

Fredrick provided several case examples of radiology malpractice suits. In a 2011 case in Pennsylvania, a patient’s yearly chest X-ray during a physical showed small areas of increased density. A follow-up X-ray was recommended, but those results weren’t communicated to the patient. By the next year, he had inoperable lung cancer. The case was settled for $3.75 million.

The radiologist didn’t make sure the findings were delivered to the referring physician, and the physician then didn’t inform the patient, Fredrick said. “You really have to have a paper trail on having had that conversation,” she said, adding the radiologist didn’t dictate that exchange in the report, which may or may not have protected him.

In another case from Virginia in 2007, a patient alleged that the brain MRIs he received between December 2002 and October 2005 were misread. The defendant said the statute of limitations, which is usually two years, had passed so the patient missed the window to file a suit. However, the court determined the suit could go forward because the earlier MRIs were viewed with the latest ones, making them part of continuing treatment, Fredrick explained. It depends on the state, she added, so it’s important to know the state-by-state rules.


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