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Cancer Misdiagnosis Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

The misreading of patient tests has been found to be a common medical error and one that often seriously harms the patient.

Coverys, an insurance provider to physicians, last year released a report on medical malpractice claims involving radiologists titled, “Claims Data Signals & Solutions to Reduce Risks and Improve Patient Safety.”  A radiologist is a medical doctor who uses a variety of electronic testing – such as x-rays and MRIs – to diagnose and treat patients.  A radiologist often consults another physician following a referral for clinical testing.

The report focused on the insurer’s closed medical malpractice claims from 2013 and 2017.  It found that errors made by radiologists comprised a significant portion of those claims. 

Radiologist Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

The most frequent basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit against a radiologist involved a patient’s misdiagnosis.  Radiologists were involved in 15 percent of misdiagnosis medical malpractice lawsuits, second behind only general medicine physicians.  And 80 percent of those medical malpractice claims in the study involved a misinterpretation of a clinical test by a radiologist.

The study also looked at the severity of patient harm from a radiologist’s mistake.  It found that errors made in the radiology process are often grave.  By far, in terms of both medical malpractice claims made and financial compensation awards made, the errors most commonly involved the death of the patient.  A full 80 percent of the medical errors were fatal or resulted in permanent injuries.

Another finding of the study explains why this may be so.  The authors found that among medical malpractice lawsuits for a radiologist’s misdiagnosis, cancer was the most common disease wrongfully diagnosed.  They found that many of the medical malpractice claims hinged on improper follow-up on abnormal test results that could signal cancer.

Types of Cancers Frequently Misdiagnosed

The top four types of cancer that were misdiagnosed and led to medical malpractice lawsuits were:

  • Breast cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

Poor Communication that Leads to a Serious Misdiagnosis

The report identified concerns in the diagnostic process.  Most of them involve poor communication, including:

  • Communicating test results between inpatient and outpatient settings
  • Electronic health records that don’t alert physicians to abnormal test results
  • A lack of systematic process that identifies worrisome test results and the need for more follow-up

The authors also provide recommendations to radiologists to minimize errors that lead to a serious misdiagnosis: 

Radiologists should employ standard protocols for treatment to manage their heavy workflows and to adequately address their patients’ needs.

Establish and follow standard criteria for deciding when a second reading of an x-ray or MRI should be done.  This process includes a timeframe for that additional reading and acknowledgment back to the radiologist that the treating physician received the second reading.

Radiologists should use report templates that include specific bits of information, as well as use unquestionably clear language when completing the reports. 

Make sure that these standards change as the technology of the testing changes and grows more sophisticated.

And to regularly test equipment to ensure all is working properly.

If you lost a loved one or if you suffered serious harm from a doctor’s misdiagnosis – involving cancer or some other disease – proper treatment protocols and standard of care may not have been followed and provided.  Contact an attorney experienced in handling medical malpractice lawsuits to review your case.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Articles February 27, 2019