Chicago Radiological Malpractice & Negligence Lawyers
In the past, the doctors had limited resources to diagnose illnesses, and the results of their diagnoses were often inaccurate. Modern doctors, however, have a wide range of tests at their disposal to help them make precise and reliable medical assessments – and at the forefront of medical technology for such tests is the science of radiology. Unfortunately, radiological testing can have drawbacks if used in negligence. A patient who has been harmed due to the actions of their radiologist may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim. A member of our personal injury team can help you understand your rights involving the following:
- What is radiological malpractice?
- Common radiological injuries
- Common errors in mammography
- X-ray overdose, oversight, and lung cancer
- Ultrasound errors
- Radiation and chemotherapy overdose
While radiology holds incredible promise to heal and diagnose disease, it can easily cause incredible pain and suffering if mismanaged. Radiological malpractice occurs when a radiologist1 fails to meet the standard of care of other radiologists in the community. If that mistake then results in harm, injury or death to the patient, the radiologist (and sometime other members of the medical staff, nurses and the hospital) must be held legally responsible for a patient’s:
- Permanent disability
- Loss of future income
- Lost wages
- Past and future medical expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Or in some cases, death
Mistakes happen. We’re all human. Yet some mistakes are simply less dire than others. A painter who makes a mistake just re-paints the wall. A chef who burns dinner just throws it out and starts again. But there are very few opportunities for “do-overs” in the world of medicine. A doctor is required to have extensive education and training precisely because the stakes are very high, especially in radiology. This is why, according to the American College of Radiology, radiologists must graduate from medical school, pass a licensing examination, complete a four-year medical residency education, and in many cases also complete a fellowship of two years and obtain board certification by the American Osteopathic Board of Radiology or the American Board of Radiology. Despite this training, malpractice can and does occur. Some of the primary reasons radiologists commit medical malpractice include:
- Poor medical techniques
- Faulty perception or reasoning
- Inadequate or faulty medical equipment
- Lack of communication with other doctors
- Fatigue and excessive workload
- Staff shortages
- Insufficient experience
- Lack of information
- Poor reading room environment
- Attention diverted by another unrelated, but eye-catching finding
- Intentional under-reading of questionable shadows as negative to reduce the number of “false-positive” results
Though radiologists have a difficult job, no exceptions or allowances are made for them just because diagnostic tests are hard to read or interpret. Any negligence can have catastrophic outcomes on a patient’s wellbeing. If you believe a radiologist has committed malpractice for any reason, request a free consultation with an attorney to learn more about your legal rights.
Common Radiological Mistakes
According to recently collected information, medical errors made by radiologists are a serious concern. About 15% of diagnostic tests are believed to be in error to some degree and about half of surveyed doctors indicated that they encounter diagnostic errors on a monthly basis. So it’s no surprise that in one study, 55% of patients said that one of their greatest fears was being the victim of a diagnostic error. Some of the most common radiological malpractice mistakes include:
Observational and Interpretive Errors
If a condition goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, or if a diagnosis is delayed, the course of medical treatment will undoubtedly be wrong as well. This may allow a disease to grow unchecked and metastasize, as in the case of cancer. In other circumstances, improper treatment may even result in a greater harm than that of the original disease. According to recent research, a failure on the part of the radiologist to find, see and properly interpret a diagnostic image is the number one basis for radiological medical malpractice lawsuits in the United States. There are three basic types of observational errors that a radiologist may make:
- Scanning error – a failure of the radiologist to look in the right place to find a problem.
- Recognition error – looking in the right place, but not recognizing or noticing the problem. This is also known as a perception error.
- Decision-making error – noticing the structure, but failing to recognize it as a problem. This is also known as a processing error.
Regardless of whether the radiologist failed to look in the right place, failed to notice the abnormality, or failed to properly interpret it once found, the resulting issue is the same: radiological medical malpractice may have occurred leading to a patient injury. Such malpractice can affect a wide range of illnesses and injuries:
- Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose cancerous cells and tumors
- False Positive – Diagnosis of test as abnormal when normal
- False Negative – Diagnosis of test as normal when abnormal
- Failing to investigate abnormalities
- Obstetrical sonogram errors
- Failure to diagnose bone fractures in emergency room X-rays
- Failure to diagnose an aneurysm, pulmonary embolism, blood clot or bleeding on the brain, resulting in stroke or death
- Failure to diagnose ruptured, fractured or herniated disks in spine
- Failure to diagnose liver disease or kidney disease in a timely manner
It is estimated that 2000 deaths a year are the result of communication errors between doctors, radiologists and medical staff. This is ultimately the basis for one-third of all medical malpractice lawsuits. When doctor-patient communication is poor, patients suffer and many diseases and illnesses go undiagnosed. But even if communications between the doctor and patient are good, communication errors on the part of the radiologist may result in serious problems.
Failure to request additional testing: When a radiologist believes that he or she has located an abnormality on a diagnostic test, they are responsible to make additional follow-up suggestions when appropriate. If the radiologist is uncertain about the findings, further diagnostic studies may be needed to confirm, clarify or to rule out the initial radiological impressions.
Failure to communicate effectively with physician: In addition to properly interpreting and reporting on radiological tests, radiologists are responsible for directly communicating those findings to the referring doctor. If the findings are incorrectly communicated, neglected, or delayed, the patient’s course of treatment will be negatively affected as well.
Of all medical malpractice lawsuits, those involving the failed diagnosis of breast cancer from a mammogram are the most common. Within the context of those lawsuits, radiologists are the specialists who are sued the most often in these cases. Often, a woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, sometimes in a later stage, will hire our law firm to help determine if a radiological error occurred during an earlier mammogram. Many times, our attorneys, in conjunction with hired radiological experts, are able to discern indications of a cancerous tumor on earlier mammograms previously interpreted as “normal.” The most common types of cancerous lesions that tend to be missed by specialists include those exhibiting:
- Architectural distortion – This occurs when an abnormal arrangement of tissue strands appears in a random pattern, rather than the breast’s normal appearance, but the mammogram does not reveal a mass that would seem to cause this condition.
- Mass with calcifications – Calcifications are mineral deposits that look like white spots on the mammogram. These can include macrocalcifications and microcalcifications.
- Mass without calcifications – A mass is an area or a lump that looks abnormal and may sometimes be a non-cancerous cyst or a benign tumor.
- Breast density – A mammogram report will assess how glandular and fibrous tissues are distributed in the breast as compared to fatty tissues. Dense breasts are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.
Whenever a woman is diagnosed with a late-stage breast cancer despite the existence of previous “normal” mammogram radiological reports, we recommend allowing our medical experts to review previous films to determine if an error occurred. Some studies have found that 30% to 70% of patients were diagnosed with breast cancer had an interpretation mistake on an early mammogram. Failure to properly interpret a breast cancer tumor may constitute radiological malpractice.
More than any other type medical facility, the emergency room presents the greatest chance for radiological mistakes to happen. When patients are present with multiple injuries, a series of X-rays are often ordered. Doctors commonly fixate on the most serious injuries, failing to notice fractures or bone breaks that are less obvious and serious. Failure to identify a broken or fractured bone is among most common of all emergency room radiological errors, with error rates perhaps as high as 80%.
Malpractice may also lead to X-ray overdose injuries. This can happen when the medical staff fails to shield the patient’s body with a lead apron during the procedure or when the X-ray machine itself is not properly calibrated, fails, or is defective. The X-ray room must also be properly shielded to protect others from the dangerous radiation.
Chest X-Rays and Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world. Early detection of lung cancer is vital to patient survival rates, especially since some lung cancers, such as small cell lung cancer, tends to spread quickly. In some cases, surgery and other treatment options may not be medically viable by the time a misdiagnosis is corrected. Radiological medical malpractice involving chest x-rays commonly are the result of:
- A failure to take chest x-ray – Although it isn’t a common practice to take chest x-rays of patients (even those who smoke heavily) as a preventative measure, it is generally considered the proper standard of care to take such an x-ray of a high risk patient who has possible symptoms of lung cancer such as a cough, weight loss, breathing difficulties, fatigue, chest pain, and coughing up blood.
- Misinterpretation of chest x-ray – The sort of lung cancers that are most often overlooked on chest x-rays are called “solitary pulmonary nodules.” Lesion shape and size is often a critical factor in misdiagnoses. Some studies have shown that only 50% of lesions which were 1 cm in size were detected. Spotting such a small lesion is very difficult, but it is exactly what a radiologist has been trained to do and why they are trained in this area. Yet many doctors who are not radiologists attempt to interpret x-rays without specialized assistance. If a tumor is missed, radiological negligence has occurred.
- Failure to follow up – time is of the essence in treating lung cancer. Because it is often difficult to identify small tumors on chest x-rays, prompt and thorough follow-up with a primary care physician is essential. Sometimes, a CT scan or an MRI is necessary to discern whether or not a spot or a shadow is cancerous. If the radiologist fails to follow up with additional testing, lung cancer may be misdiagnosed as emphysema or never be diagnosed at all. When such mistakes happen, the patient will undoubtedly suffer and malpractice will occur.
The use of Doppler Ultrasound has become quite routine in obstetric medicine as a guide during childbirth and pregnancy. Ultrasound uses high-intensity sound waves to display blood circulation of the fetus, the placenta, and the uterus. It’s estimated that up to 70% of women will have an ultrasound during the course of their pregnancy. These tests can be very useful to determine the due date, anticipate problems in the pregnancy, monitor fetal health, and assist in prenatal surgery.
Ultrasound is often an excellent choice as a prenatal diagnostic test, especially because it is not harmful like an X-ray. Like other diagnostic tests, however, good results are dependent upon the test operator. The best results are obtained when a very experienced physician performs and interprets the test. Surprisingly, some studies suggest that 1/3 to 1/2 of all structural birth defects go undetected during an ultrasound. Whether the radiologist performs an examination or relies upon an assistant, nurse or technician to perform the ultrasound, ultimately the doctor, and often the hospital, is ultimately responsible for proper interpretation of the results.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are often used to treat cancer. Because the chemicals used for chemotherapy are highly toxic, proper prescription and mixture of these chemicals are of the utmost importance. Similarly, if excessive radiation is employed during cancer treatment, radiation burns may occur, destroying the patient’s bodily tissue.
The overuse of other medical devices that employ radiation also have a great potential to cause injury if used improperly. The overuse of X-rays and CT scans to diagnose diseases can cause cancer. We have all heard of the dangers of excessive X-ray exposure, but CT scans can subject the patient to radiation hundreds of times more powerful. When a patient is subjected to excessive radiation exposure, the resulting injury often does not appear for years afterwards; however, radiation therapy injuries usually become apparent just days after cancer treatment. The following parties may be responsible for injuries resulting from radiation:
- The radiation oncologist
- The hardware manufacturer of the radiation equipment
- The technician who delivers the radiation
- The medical physicists who confirm that the machine is correctly calibrated
- The software company who programmed the amount of radiation to be delivered
Speak to our Chicago Radiological Malpractice Team
Radiologists are responsible for the harm that they cause, whether intentional or negligent. Since 1990, the affiliated attorneys of Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC have helped thousands of patients and their families in their pursuit of medical justice. Our team stands ready to discuss your situation free of charge and with no pressure of any kind. Many millions of dollars have already been recovered for our deserving clients. So call us today for free information and speak directly to an experienced Chicago medical malpractice attorney. Our toll free number is (800) 996-4824. We are available 24 hours a day.
1 A radiologist is a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) or a medical doctor (MD) who specializes in using medical imaging technology to diagnose and treat medical conditions.