Most radiologists are concerned about being named in a malpractice suit at some point in their career. But while half of radiologists will have been a malpractice defendant by the age of 60, a strong majority of malpractice claims that go to trial are decided in favor of radiologists.
Fear of litigation can cause radiologists to recommend follow-up studies to minimize their liability -- leading to unnecessary imaging, according to Dr. Frances Lazarow of Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, VA. Lazarow presented research on malpractice claims against radiologists at the recent RSNA 2018 meeting in Chicago.
"One survey reported that the threat of malpractice influences the thinking or actions of approximately 50% of radiologists almost all the time or always," she told session attendees. "But, actually, most cases end in favor of the defendant."
Lazarow and colleagues sought to characterize the volume, resolution, and payout of malpractice claims, as well as characterize the types of errors and imaging modalities implicated.
The team searched the Lexis Advance online database of legal findings for the keywords "radiology" and "radiologist" between 2008 and 2018 in California, Florida, and New York. The search produced 293 relevant cases. Lazarow's group tracked the following error types:
- Diagnostic: missed findings, misdiagnosis
- Communication: finding was not communicated to the appropriate party in an appropriate time interval
- Procedural: complications from a procedure, or an incorrect procedure
- Mixed/other: any combination of the above, or errors that didn't fall into the previous categories
Imaging modalities included mammography, CT, ultrasound, radiography, fluoroscopy, MRI, nuclear medicine, and interventional radiology.
Although 60% of radiology litigation went to trial, 70% of the cases were decided in favor of the radiologist, the researchers found. When the case was decided in favor of the plaintiff, the mean award was $3.3 million; the average settlement amount for cases that did not go to trial was $1.2 million.
"The majority of trial verdicts are for the defendant, but jury awards for the plaintiff are significantly higher than settlements," Lazarow said.
As for the types of errors cited in malpractice suits, 83% were diagnostic, 10% were procedural, 6% were communication-related, and 1% were mixed/other. The imaging modalities most often implicated in malpractice litigation were mammography (38%), radiography (19%), and CT (15%).
"We hypothesized that common errors cited in malpractice suits would be due to communication problems, but most errors are diagnostic," Lazarow told AuntMinnie.com.
The researchers hope the study findings will alleviate some of the anxiety radiologists may have regarding malpractice suits.
"Just being aware of the true volume and outcomes of malpractice cases can help radiologists cope with some of the uncertainty that accompanies a lawsuit," Lazarow concluded.