Study uncovers the most common diagnostic errors by radiologists

Radiologists are physicians with advanced training in the interpretation of diagnostic radiology studies such as MRI and CT scans. They rarely, if ever, see a patient face to face and aren’t typically involved in making treatment decisions. In fact, they might even review radiology images from a remote location rather than in the hospital.

When a clinical physician, such as an internal medicine doctor, hospitalist, surgeon, or neurologist, orders a radiology scan, they usually provide a brief explanation of the reason for the order. This is called the clinical indication.

I’ve handled cases where the reported clinical indication is detailed, saying something like: Dizziness, headache, rule out stroke. I’ve represented plaintiffs in other cases where the clinical education was sparse and non-specific, something like: Headache.

In my experience, the clinical indication is important. Because clinical doctors and radiologists often don’t see or speak to each other, it’s often the only way that radiologists get an idea of what they should be looking for. Without it, they don’t know where to focus while reviewing images closely to make findings, impressions, radiological diagnoses (when possible), and recommendations to the clinical team for additional studies.

In modern medicine, physicians are extremely reliant on diagnostic radiology studies and the interpretations and opinions of radiologists. When a radiologist misses an important diagnosis, it can divert clinical physicians from the correct diagnosis and treatment that the patient desperately needs.

According to a recent study of medical malpractice cases nationwide, the most commonly missed diagnoses by radiologists include:

• Breast cancer (malignant neoplasm): 15% of botched diagnosis cases against radiologists

When breast cancer isn’t timely diagnosed, there’s a delay in treatment that allows the cancer to grow and metastasize into lymph nodes and other parts of the body. In some cases, it can be a death sentence.

• Lung cancer (malignant neoplasm of the bronchus or lung): 7% of cases

The same risks are present if there's a diagnostic mistake with lung cancer. A delay in treatment can allow the cancer spread to another vital organ, like the brain.

• Spinal epidural abscess: 3% of cases

An abscess is a walled-off collection of infection or pus. The epidural space is very close to the spinal cord. When an abscess isn’t diagnosed and drained, it can cause spinal cord compression that can progress into paralysis.

• Kidney cancer (malignant neoplasm): 2% of cases

Like breast cancer and lung cancer, early diagnosis and treatment of kidney cancer are critical factors in the cure and survival rates.

• Broken neck or femur: 2% of cases

If you’ve been seriously injured because of a radiology error, then contact a top-rated experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.