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Can You Sue a Radiologist for Negligence?

Radiologists are doctors with specialized training in the area of radiology. Radiology involves medical imaging and diagnostic tests, including X-rays, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Radiologists interpret imaging results to help diagnose patients with a variety of medical conditions. 

The role of a radiologist is very important because they are trained to identify possible medical conditions and suspicious results, to make sure the patients get the care they need. When a radiologist makes a mistake, it can delay a medical diagnosis, leaving the patient suffering additional harm and injury. 

If you think your radiologist made a mistake and want to know about your options for recovering compensation, Gilman and Bedigian may be able to help. Contact our office today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.  

What Do Radiologists Do?

Radiologists are medical doctors with a specialization in radiology. Radiologists diagnose medical conditions and treat patients using a variety of imaging methods, including: 

  • X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Mammography
  • Nuclear medicine
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Ultrasound
  • Angiography
  • Myelography

When a patient goes to the hospital or has an appointment with their doctor, the doctor may send the patient to “radiology” or “imaging” for tests. These tests will then be interpreted by a radiologist. In some cases, the radiologist never sees the patient. Some radiologists work remotely, reviewing imaging results to identify areas of concern or interpret results to provide their findings to the treating physician. Other radiologists may work directly with patients, with imaging-guided surgery or radiation oncology. 

Radiology and Medical Mistakes

Whenever any medical professional makes a mistake with a patient, it can have a serious impact on the patient’s health. Doctors provide diagnoses and treatments for patients with various medical conditions. When a doctor gives the wrong diagnosis, fails to treat the patient, or provides the wrong treatment, it can cause the patient serious harm. This also applies to radiologists. 

Radiologists can be vital for patients with various medical conditions, including cancer, heart disease, strokes, and other diseases. If a radiologist makes a diagnostic error, it can lead to a wrong diagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or failure to diagnose a serious condition. Many of these medical conditions can get worse over time unless they are treated. 

For example, a cancer that is not detected could grow and metastasize, or spread to other parts of the body. If a radiologist fails to identify a suspicious mass on a radiological study, the cancer could spread, cause more damage, and be more difficult to treat. In some cases, a delayed diagnosis for an aggressive cancer could be fatal. 

According to a major medical malpractice insurance provider, about 15% of diagnostic-related medical malpractice claims involve a radiologist as a defendant. Many of the claims against radiologists involve medical errors caused by misinterpretation of radiological tests. Some hospitals and clinics are even using a second radiologist to review radiological findings.

Medical Malpractice by Radiologists

Medical malpractice is a specific type of lawsuit that involves claims of negligence against a doctor, hospital, or other medical professionals. The basis of a medical malpractice claim is that a doctor failed to do something that a reasonable doctor would have done under similar conditions, and that the failure to act caused injury and harm to the patient. 

The elements of a medical malpractice claim against a radiologist include: 

  1. The radiologist owed the patient a duty of care;
  2. The radiologist breached the duty of care; 
  3. The breach caused the patient’s injury; and
  4. The patient suffered harm or damage as a result. 

The standard of care in medical malpractice is the degree of risk assessment in providing care to a patient. There is not necessarily a list of what counts as a breach of care and what falls within the doctor’s correct scope of treatment. In general, the standard of care is “what would a similarly positioned medical professional do under the same circumstances?”

For example, based on the medical training, education, and experience of a radiologist, given a medical situation, what would other radiologists do under the circumstances? If the radiologist in question deviates from the standards of practice compared to other radiologists, if that breach caused injury to the patient, the radiologist could be held responsible. 

Radiologist Education and Training

Radiologists have to initially go through the same educational requirements as any other licensed doctor. This generally requires a 4-year bachelor’s degree, followed by taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The prospective medical student’s MCAT score can make up a large part of acceptance to medical schools in the U.S. 

Medical school is generally a 4-year program. After finishing medical school, the graduate goes through a residency program. Sometimes called an internship, depending on the medical specialty, residency can be from 3 to 7 years. Prospective doctors have to pass state and national licensing exams and acceptance by their medical board before they can practice medicine as a licensed doctor (Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O). Some doctors then go into a fellowship program to further specialize.

According to the American Medical Association, there are more than 100 specialties and subspecialties in medicine. According to the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), the American Board of Radiology is the board that qualifies doctors as radiologists. There are further specialties and subspecialties under the American Board of Radiology, including: 

  • Diagnostic Radiology
  • Interventional Radiology and Diagnostic Radiology
  • Medical Physics (Diagnostic, Nuclear, Therapeutic)
  • Radiation Oncology
  • Neuroradiology
  • Nuclear Radiology
  • Pain Medicine
  • Pediatric Radiology

Radiological Specialty and Subspecialties

Diagnostic Radiology: Diagnostic radiology uses imaging and radiation to diagnose and treat disease, including X-rays, radionuclides, ultrasound, and electromagnetic radiation. Specializing in diagnostic radiology includes one year of clinical training and 4 years of radiology training. Subspecialties under diagnostic radiology include:  

  • Neuroradiology
  • Nuclear Radiology
  • Pain Medicine
  • Pediatric Radiology

Interventional Radiology and Diagnostic Radiology: Interventional radiology and diagnostic radiology use a combination of imaging, imaging-guided procedures, and periprocedural patient care. These doctors can diagnose and treat patient conditions, including using embolization, angioplasty, stent placement, thrombus management, drainage, and ablation. Specializing in interventional radiology and diagnostic radiology includes 3 years of diagnostic radiology and 2 years of interventional radiology. 

Medical Physics (Diagnostic, Nuclear, Therapeutic): Medical physics involves a combination of diagnostic physics, nuclear medical physics, and therapeutic medical physics. These doctors can diagnose and treat patients based on radiological imaging and therapy. Medical physics specialists can also make sure the use of radiation for diagnosis and treatment is safe for the patient. Subspecialties under medical physics include:  

  • Diagnostic Medical Physics
  • Nuclear Medical Physics
  • Therapeutic Medical Physics 

Radiation Oncology: Radiation oncology uses radiation treatments to address cancer, malignant diseases, and some benign conditions.  Radiation oncologists may also use ultrasound, heat treatment, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Specializing in radiation oncology includes one year of clinical training and 4 years of radiation oncology training. 

Neuroradiology: Neuroradiology is a further subspecialty that diagnoses and treats medical conditions of the central nervous system, including the brain, spine, and spinal cord. According to ABMS, a specialist in neuroradiology treats conditions that include: “aging and degenerative diseases, seizure disorders, cancer, stroke, cerebrovascular diseases, and trauma.”

Nuclear Radiology: Nuclear radiology uses radioactive material to provide imaging for a patient, including positron emission tomography (PET) and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). These types of scans can create 3-D images of internal organs and body systems. 

Pain Medicine: Pain medicine specialists treat patients with chronic pain, cancer pain, or other types of acute pain. 

Pediatric Radiology: Pediatric radiology addresses radiological diagnosis and treatment of children and infants. The risks and harms associated with radiological exposure can be different for children and infants, with developing brains and growing bodies. Pediatric radiology may require an additional year of fellowship and a year of practice or training. 

Radiologist Expert Witnesses in Malpractice Claims

With so much specialized education, training, and experience, radiologists have a very specific area of practice. How can a jury determine whether the radiologist deviated from the standard of care or was acting reasonably in treating a patient? In medical malpractice lawsuits, the jury can hear from “expert witnesses” who provide their expert opinion on the standard of care, causation of the injuries, and other information for the lawsuit. 

An expert witness has to be “qualified” by the court. Qualifying the expert witness means showing the expert has the education, experience, training, and knowledge that would make them an expert in a specific area of knowledge. In a radiology malpractice lawsuit, the expert could be a radiologist or other qualified doctor with the experience, education, training, and knowledge on the standards of care in radiology. 

Each state has procedural requirements for expert witness testimony. For example, in a Chicago medical malpractice lawsuit, Illinois Rules of Evidence 702 provides:

“If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise. Where an expert witness testifies to an opinion based on a new or novel scientific methodology or principle, the proponent of the opinion has the burden of showing the methodology or scientific principle on which the opinion is based is sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.”

Affidavit of Merit for Radiology Malpractice Lawsuits

Even before the case goes to the jury, most medical malpractice lawsuits require some guarantee that there is a legitimate basis for filing the lawsuit. This is an additional requirement for medical malpractice that may not be required in other negligence lawsuits. 

For example, in Maryland, the plaintiff has to get a certificate from a qualified medical expert to file a lawsuit. A medical malpractice claim can be dismissed if the plaintiff fails to file a certificate of a qualified expert within 90 days from the date of the complaint. 

Under Illinois Compiled Statutes Section 2-622, the injury victim’s attorney has to file an affidavit that the attorney has consulted and reviewed the facts of the case with a health professional. To qualify, the attorney has to affirm the medical professional:

  • “Is knowledgeable in the relevant issues involved in the particular action; 
  • Practices or has practiced within the last 6 years or teaches or has taught within the last 6 years in the same area of healthcare or medicine that is at issue in the particular action; and
  • Is qualified by experience or demonstrated competence in the subject of the case.”

The health professional has to determine, in a written report, that after reviewing the medical record and other relevant material, that there is a “reasonable and meritorious cause for the filing of such action.”

Radiologist Negligence and Cancer Diagnosis

Some of the most serious negligence claims against a radiologist involve a cancer misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of cancer. Cancer misdiagnosis can occur when a radiologist misinterprets the imaging studies as a condition other than the actual medical condition of the patient. Commonly misdiagnosed cancers include: 

A delayed diagnosis can occur when the symptoms, signs, complaints, and radiology test results should have alerted a reasonable radiologist that there was a diagnosable condition but the doctor failed to recognize the cancer. With a delayed diagnosis for cancer, the cancer may be allowed to advance, grow, and spread to other organs in the body. Once cancer spreads, it can be more difficult to treat. Cancer that has metastasized beyond a certain point may have a lower chance of success. Advance-stage cancer can require more severe treatment with greater side effects. 

If you believe your radiologist made a mistake and failed to recognize possible signs of a tumor, cancer, or other medical conditions, you may be able to recover money damages for your losses. Contact an experienced medical malpractice law firm for legal advice about your rights. 

A medical malpractice attorney can look at your case, review your medical records, and help you understand the basics of a radiologist medical malpractice claim. With an experienced attorney on your side, you can recover the maximum damages for your injuries. Contact a law firm that handles medical malpractice cases like yours. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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