Handling medical malpractice claims throughout Virginia
Diagnostic images such x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs are vital tools used for the prompt identification of injuries or illnesses. From broken bones to cancer, treating doctors rely on trained radiologists to interpret these images to help diagnose a suspected injury or illness so that they can make the right treatment decisions for their patients. Radiology errors cause delays in diagnosis and treatment, and can lead to devastating and preventable outcomes. The attorneys at Phelan Petty have decades experience fighting on behalf of patients injured due to radiologist negligence.
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Radiology errors – the facts
With approximately one billion imaging exams performed every year, radiologists make approximately 40 million errors per year. The most common mistake made when a radiologist fails to identify an abnormality that is visible on a particular image. The different types of imaging studies used include:
- Computed tomography scans (CT scans)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Nuclear medicine imaging
- Positron emission tomography scans (PET scans)
In order for these studies to be useful, it is necessary that they be performed correctly, that they be interpreted accurately, and that the results be communicated in a timely manner to the treating physician. Any error that occurs along this chain of events can endanger patient safety.
Life-threatening injuries caused by radiology errors
Accurate reading of diagnostic imaging is essential to the health of a patient. Misreading diagnostic images can cause life-threatening injury, or even death. Failing to notice a hairline fracture after a car accident can cause a minor, treatable injury to worsen. Missing a small spot on the lung can lead to a missed diagnosis of lung cancer and a delay in crucial treatment. Failure to identify internal bleeding can lead to fatal blood loss.
Radiological imaging is used to identify a wide variety of serious conditions which must be diagnosed early in order to be treated effectively. These problems include:
Reasons diagnostic and radiology errors occur
A recent study discussing the need for increased safety in radiology concluded, “While diagnostic errors are generally lower for perceptual specialties (e.g., radiology, pathology and dermatology) than clinical specialties, radiologists face a number of challenges that can contribute to these errors… The sources of errors have remained consistent over the past several decades. Despite improving technology, the human element resulting in diagnostic errors has changed little.”
What this means is even though technology for diagnostic imaging has improved over the past few decades, it cannot necessarily protect against negligence. The study found a number of causes for common radiology errors:
- Failure to compare findings. If a radiologist does not compare a current imaging study to prior studies or reports to determine any changes, there will not be an accurate evaluation of a patient’s condition. If there is nothing to compare a diagnostic image to, there is no way to know if the image is a reliable representation of the patient’s condition.
- Limitations in imaging technique. When radiology instruments and machines are out-of-date, in disrepair, or defective, images can be obscured and interpreted incorrectly.
- Pathology outside of region of interest. Radiologists can miss a lesion, tumor, or injury because they are literally not looking for it. If they are only focusing attention on the immediate anatomy being evaluated and none of the surrounding areas, they can miss potentially life-threatening findings.
- Satisfaction of search mistakes. “Satisfaction of search” errors are when a radiologist discovers an abnormality and fails to complete their investigation, believing they have found what they were looking for. In many cases, an obvious finding causes a biased interpretation if the radiologist does not continue searching for other abnormalities.
- Failure to recognize a normal variant. Every patient is unique and may have small variances in their anatomy as compared to other patients. Inexperienced or negligent radiologists may note what is actually a clinically unimportant finding as an abnormality, resulting in a false positive.
How do you prove radiology malpractice in Virginia?
With any claim of malpractice, it is necessary to prove that your health care provider failed to give reasonable and appropriate care under the circumstances. In the context of radiology, medical malpractice means that the radiologist either failed to interpret your imaging results in a reasonable manner or failed to report them correctly. In other words, the mistake he or she made should not have been made and would not have been made by a reasonably careful radiologist.
What kinds of damages are available in a radiology malpractice case?
Victims of medical malpractice are eligible to recover damages for several types of financial and non-financial losses, including:
- Medical bills, current and future
- Lost wages and potential earning capability
- Pain and suffering
The state of Virginia allows a two-year statute of limitations for malpractice cases, so it is crucial to contact a malpractice attorney as soon as possible upon discovery of your injuries.
We rightly expect our radiologists and other medical professionals to provide us with the best and safest care possible. If they fail to do so, we and the people we love may suffer serious and tragic health complications. Let us hold those people accountable.