Missed diagnoses and radiology errors

Who is to blame for a missed diagnosis that puts you at a disadvantage when it comes to treating or overcoming a serious medical condition?

It might not be your doctor. Instead, it could be the radiologist who performed your tests and interpreted the results.

Medical providers -- from general practitioners to specialists -- often rely on the expertise of hospital radiologists to provide them with test results that either confirm or refute a suspected condition. About 15 percent of the time, the radiologist is actually the cause of an ensuing medical malpractice claim. In 80 percent of those cases, it's the radiologist's skill (or lack thereof) at interpreting test results that results in the delayed or missed diagnosis.

Which conditions are the most likely to result in radiology errors? Cancer signs involving the breast, ovaries, lungs and pancreas are all-too-frequently overlooked by radiologists. In other cases, radiologists may note that there are abnormal results but fail to include recommendations for additional testing in their report to the physician. Radiologists sometimes also use language that is unclear in meaning in their reports, which can lead to confusion on the part of the physician.

A missed or delayed diagnosis can have a significant negative impact on a patient's life when an early, aggressive response to a disease like cancer is the only hope of an effective treatment. Some patients are falsely reassured by test results that seem fine -- and are devastated to later learn that they are quite ill. Even worse, patients who have undergone diagnostic testing may be actively discouraged from seeking any further medical help -- despite their ongoing symptoms. Their doctors may even end up treating their symptoms as if they are part of an unrelated condition -- only to find out the truth when the patient begins to decline further.

Almost a third of medical malpractice claims involving radiology errors result in death and another 46 percent result in serious injuries. If you're a patient, you can't afford to be complacent about your care -- even if a lab test seems to be fine. If you're still experiencing symptoms after a radiologist clears you, go back to your doctor and insist on follow-up testing.

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Vincent J. DeSalvo, Attorney at Law
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