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Radiologist sued for failure to follow-up on cancer concerns

In 2011, a Pennsylvania radiologist while examining an X-ray noted a small area of increased density in a patient's chest. Though a follow-up X-ray was recommended, the results of the follow-up were never communicated to the patient until it was too late. By the next year, this patient was suffering from irreversible lung cancer.

This demonstrates why radiologists are as likely to be sued for medical malpractice as other physicians. The ultimate consequences of a misdiagnosis or a failure to diagnose can result in ailments being left untreated - thus increasing in severity over time.

About seven percent of such diagnostic radiologists face lawsuits every year. Lawyers tend to see issues involving radiologists involving interpretive errors, failure to gain informed consent, and (as in the case above) failure to communicate results in a timely fashion.

Radiologists do need to follow up on findings in order to make certain that the treating physician really does understand what is wrong with the patient. This can mean creating procedures so that documentation exists substantiating that everyone in the chain of communication has been informed of the diagnosis.

The patient with the inoperable lung cancer did sue the radiologist, and the matter was ultimately settled out for $3.75 million. This settlement is understandable considering the ultimate consequences.

As we've mentioned on this blog on a number of occasions, communication errors are one of the most common causes of medical malpractice cases. The expensive diagnostic equipment, the consultations, and all of the expertise that goes into a diagnosis: all of this would mean nothing if the patient is not treated for his medical condition.

Source: Diagnostic Imaging, "Radiology Pros Not Immune to Malpractice Suits," by Sara Michael, August 14, 2012

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