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Radiologists trail only primary care in number of diagnosis-related lawsuits

by John W. Mitchell , Senior Correspondent
A recently released medical claims data report found that 80 percent of radiology malpractice claims involve the misinterpretation of a "clinical test."

Further, about 28 percent of the radiology claims involve a death, while about 46 percent involve a "grave," "permanent significant" or “permanent” injury. The Red Signal Report was released recently by Coverys, a medical and liability insurance company.

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“Errors in radiology are unfortunately common. These errors have severe and life-threatening effects on patients,” said Robert Hanscom, vice president of business analytics at Coverys. “We developed this report to illuminate warning signs and safety vulnerabilities within radiology practices, in the hope of educating providers and risk managers — ultimately improving patient safety.”

Roughly 15 percent of malpractice claims with a diagnosis-related allegation involve a radiologist, second only to general medicine providers, added Hanscom. Over 80 percent of claims are most often associated with a missed interpretation. The largest number of cases involve a missed or delayed diagnosis, especially related to cases of cancer.

Incidental findings "continue to be a major problem," according to Hanscom. While radiologists feel they are doing their jobs when reporting an incidental finding to an ordering specialist, the primary care doctor also needs to be notified. The report also found that lengthy radiology reports of the past "need to be made obsolete," replaced by standardized report templates, to help reduce variability in interpretation. Second reads on complex or critical cases are also recommended.

Hanscom also recommended that radiologists and risk managers pose four questions to assess if they have good risk protocols in place. These include:

  • Is there a closed-loop tracking system or process in place to identify outstanding test results and follow-up studies?

  • Is there a process for communicating test results during transitions of care between the inpatient and outpatient setting?

  • Are electronic health records with alert-based notification systems sending abnormal test results to both the ordering provider and primary care provider?

  • Are there criteria and processes in place to address the need to escalate and communicate the urgency of performing a recommended imaging study or intervention?

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