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Malpractice and Radiology: Most Cases Involve Diagnostic Problems

Many Americans associate medical malpractice with surgical mistakes like wrong-site procedures. However, malpractice-related harms can come from a number of sources - some of which might not be obvious to many patients.

For example, radiologists can commit medical malpractice by misreading the results of diagnostic tests. Consider the consequences when a radiologist reports a finding of breast cancer. In many cases, the patient would immediately seek a quick mastectomy to improve long-term treatment outcomes. But because surgeons often defer to radiologists interpretations of questionable diagnostic images, it is all too easy for a surgeon to unnecessarily operate on a healthy patient - simply because of the radiologist's well-intentioned mistake.

According to new research, radiologists are involved in a surprising number of lawsuits. More than 30 percent of all radiologists face a medical malpractice claim during their career. Diagnostic errors were the most common problem - especially missed diagnoses. The researchers pointed to cases involving missed or misdiagnoses of breast cancer, fractures, lung cancer and vascular conditions.

By comparison, communication mistakes, other "procedural" complications and failure to recommend further tests were involved in far fewer malpractice cases. The lesson for patients from this study may be to always seek a second opinion to confirm that the radiologist correctly interpreted diagnostic images.

Source: Oncology Nurse Advisor, "Breast cancer diagnostic errors major cause of malpractice suits," Feb. 4, 2013

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