Radiology is an amazing field of medicine because it involves using medical imaging hardware and procedures to diagnose diseases and injuries. To be a radiologist, a doctor must complete at least 13 years of training, have certification from the American Board of Radiology and undergo continuing education throughout their career.
But while the requirements of radiologists are strict to ensure their professionalism, they’re still humans and can make mistakes. According to research, radiology was the primary responsible service for medical malpractice claims and diagnostic allegations from 2008 to 2017. And among radiology cases that resulted in malpractice claims, oncology diagnoses comprised 44% of those reports.
With so many errors associated with radiologists, you might ask: why are they prone to making diagnosis errors?
Classification of diagnostic radiology errors
Mistakes in diagnostic radiology can occur for many different reasons. So many, that researchers have even come up with two ways to classify the errors.
The error classifications are:
- Type 1 – Complacency: When the doctor finds an issue but attributes it to the wrong ailment.
- Type 2 – Faulty reasoning: When the doctor correctly identifies an issue as abnormal, but attributes it to the wrong cause.
- Type 3 – Lack of knowledge: The doctor discovers something in the diagnosis but attributes it to the wrong cause due to lack of knowledge.
- Type 4 – Under-reading: The doctor missed a later discovered abnormality.
- Type 5 – Poor communication: The doctor had a medical finding, but the information was poorly communicated to the relevant clinician.
- Type 6 – Technique: The radiologist’s approach to detection and diagnosis couldn’t find the abnormality.
- Type 7 – Prior examination: The radiologist failed to review previous imaging results.
- Type 8 – History: Missing clinical information led to missed medical findings.
- Type 9 – Location: The doctor missed a medical finding because it was outside their field of interest.
- Type 10 – Satisfaction of search: The radiologist failed to find an additional abnormality after the first one was discovered.
- Type 11 – Complication: Interventional procedures may complicate a diagnosis.
- Type 12 – Satisfaction of report: A radiologist might over-rely on the results of a previous report and come to the same conclusion in their version.
- Latent errors: Technical faults with the radiology equipment.
- Active/Human error: Diagnostic errors and complications with the procedures and can involve more than just the radiologist.
- External causes: Elements beyond the doctor’s control, such as power failures.
- Customer causes: Refers to elements related to the patient and nonradiology staff. They could be unfamiliar with the procedure or were complying with instructions, which led to the error.
Diagnostic radiology errors and negligence
Like any doctor, radiologists are held to a standard of care. There are three elements to prove that a radiologist is negligent: that the radiologist violated this standard, that they caused the patient harm by failing to spot the abnormalities and that the patient suffered damages (such as additional medical costs, lost wages) on top of their worsening health conditions.
If they prove this negligence, patients whose medical conditions worsened due to a radiologist’s misdiagnosis can hold the doctor responsible for their deteriorating health. But because proving this negligence can be complicated, especially in court, patients might need the experience of an attorney who can help protect their rights.