According to the World Journal of Radiology, “radiology is one of the specialties most liable to claims of medical negligence.” Approximately 4% of radiological interpretations made in the course of a radiologist’s daily practice will be incorrect. Radiology involves the use of different imaging techniques and equipment to produce images of injury or disease. A radiologist trains for approximately five years, longer if he or she specializes in such fields as Hospice, Neuroradiology, Pediatric Radiology or Radiation Oncology.
Radiology malpractice claims arise when the interpretation of a radiograph (an image obtained by the radiologist) results in a misdiagnosis or the failure to diagnose an injury or disease. Examples include the failure to diagnose breast cancer on a mammography, the failure to diagnose lung cancer on chest radiographs, and the failure to diagnose fractures on skeletal radiographs.
There are several reasons radiology errors may occur. A radiograph is a picture, and the job of the radiologist is to identify what is going on in the picture. The first problem is one of observation. When looking at the image, the radiologist may miss an abnormality altogether. In some cases, radiologists see a shadow on a radiograph as just that, failing to realize that what appears to be a shadow is actually an indication of a serious condition.
The second problem is one of interpretation. The radiologist may identify an abnormality on a radiograph as a normal structure, or identify a normal structure as an abnormality. While the first error in interpretation tends to be more serious, the second can have equally devastating consequences. False positive diagnoses (such as identifying a benign mass as cancer) can result in unnecessary surgery or further invasive testing that could have been avoided.
The third problem is related to communication. If the radiologist manages to find an abnormality and properly interpret the abnormality, he or she must communicate this important information to the doctor and inform the doctor if more tests are necessary. Failure to order further diagnostic imaging, or to recommend action to the doctor, may result in a patient neglecting to seek treatment.
Medical malpractice is a claim in negligence, which is the failure to take reasonable care to avoid causing harm to another person. With professional malpractice claims, such as medical malpractice or legal malpractice, the elements are elevated. We are looking at what is reasonable, not for an ordinary person, but for an individual who has been trained in a specific field.
In order to succeed in a medical malpractice claim, you must first show the applicable standard of care. In medicine, a doctor should possess the knowledge, skills and training of other doctors in the same field. In the case of the radiologist, we are asking what another radiologist would have done in the same situation. Would the mass have been missed? Is the failure to spot the mass acceptable within the radiology community?
You must then show that this particular doctor failed to exercise the degree of skill, care and diligence that is reasonable and ordinary for those engaged in medical practice on the same professional level. If the radiologist failed to diagnose the condition, you must show that another radiologist would have recognized and reported the condition. To demonstrate this fact, you may need expert witnesses.
Finally, you must establish a causal relationship between the alleged negligent acts and the injury. With a radiology error, you are asking whether the misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose resulted in the harm experienced. Did it diminish the individual’s chance for survival? Did a delay in diagnosis make it necessary for the patient to undergo more invasive surgery?
Imagine that you are experiencing pain in your arm. You visit your physician, who does not find anything to indicate a problem. He recommends you rest, apply ice, and come back in a week or two. When you return to the doctor you are still experiencing pain, so he sends you to a radiologist for imaging of the area. The radiologist performs the necessary tests and finds a small mass that he believes to be benign. He contacts your physician and informs him that everything is fine.
Several months later, you experience more severe pain in your arm. A visit to the emergency room and extensive testing reveal the mass is actually cancerous and the cancer has spread. You are forced to undergo several surgeries, resulting in pain, suffering, and lost wages.
When you initially visited the radiologist for testing, he had a duty to exercise the knowledge, skills and training of others in his field. Your attorney may call experts to testify in court as to what another radiologist would have done in the same situation. Perhaps more tests would have been ordered after the mass was discovered. It is also possible that a reasonable radiologist would have informed the ordering doctor that a mass was discovered, giving the doctor the option to perform more tests.
The failure of your radiologist to take the proper steps in your care is known as a breach of duty. But it is not enough to show that the doctor failed to act reasonably, you must show that you suffered harm as a result. Your attorney will present evidence showing that had you been properly diagnosed, you would not have suffered extensive pain, suffering and loss of wages. These are known as damages.
If you or someone you care about is suffering due to a radiology error, contact the law firm of Villani & DeLuca today at (732) 965-3350 for a free consultation. Radiology errors can have life-changing consequences, and we want to make sure that you and your family are adequately compensated. Our attorneys will thoroughly investigate your claim, and represent you zealously in the event that your case goes to trial. If you are unable to travel, we will come to you.