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Radiologists: 3 lessons from recent $11.5M negligence award

Mistakes happen in any line of work. Radiologists run an increased risk due to the fact that there is often a paper trail that can work against them in the event a mistake results in serious injury. Those who practice this form of medicine are often reading scans and images, scans and images that become a part of the patient’s file. If the radiologist misses a tumor or other issue, the scan or image could serve as evidence in malpractice case.

It is not uncommon for cases to move forward years later. A recent case was successful ten years after the alleged malpractice event.

What happened in the case?

The case involved a child that received care in an emergency department ten years ago. The child received a chest x-ray and the emergency room doctor stated he noticed something abnormal with the child’s heart. The radiologist stated the abnormality was likely the result of the child’s inability to take a breath before the scan.

Unfortunately, it turned out the child had an enlarged heart. The emergency room doctor treated the child for pneumonia, providing intravenous fluids. These fluids led to stress on the child’s heart resulting in cardiac arrest and brain damage. Ten years later, the family sued the radiologist for negligence. After a two-and-a-half-week trial, the jury awarded the family $11.5 million in damages.

How can radiologists protect themselves from malpractice cases?

The case provides an opportunity to discuss steps radiologists can take to minimize the risk of a malpractice claim. These steps include:

  • Expertise. The field of medicine is highly specialized. If you are not sure about an abnormality in an image, recommend a consultation with a subspecialist.
  • Review. Take a moment to review the dictation before sending it out. A missed or misspelled word can make a big difference in the treatment the patient receives.
  • Document. If you reach out to an ER doc or other physician, document the communication. Have records to support the communication in case needed in future litigation.

Although these steps will help mitigate the risk of a malpractice claim, a claim could still arise. Those who find themselves accused of malpractice are wise to seek legal counsel to build a defense to the allegations.