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Can You Sue for MRI Errors?

Magnetic resonance imaging is a powerful tool for doctors and healthcare professionals. An MRI can give a unique look inside the body of a patient and help with diagnosing medical conditions. Like other diagnostic imaging, it is important that an experienced professional review the findings. Failure to properly order, track, and review MRI information can lead to diagnostic errors. 

MRI errors can delay treatment or lead to undiagnosed medical conditions getting worse. If an MRI error was caused by medical negligence, the patient may be able to go to court for compensation. A medical malpractice lawsuit is a way for injury victims and their family members to get money to pay for medical damages. 

If you have questions about whether your medical injuries were caused by an MRI error, talk to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for legal advice about your case.

What Is an MRI?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive imaging device that can produce three-dimensional images of a patient’s body. The MRI machine uses powerful magnets that cause protons in the body to line up, releasing energy as the protons react to the magnetic fields. This process provides detailed anatomical images inside the body without surgery. 

Different types of tissue react differently under the radiofrequency current and magnets. An MRI image can provide a 3-D image cutting through the body in cross sections. In some types of MRI scans, the patient is given a contrast agent, generally containing Gadolinium. The contrast can provide for stronger images or images focused on certain body tissues. 

Patients go through additional screening before an MRI because of the powerful magnets involved. Patients have to make sure they have no metal objects in the room, including keys, phones, buttons on clothing, earrings, and jewelry. Patients with some medical implants or conditions may not be able to get an MRI. An MRI questionnaire may be contraindicated for: 

  • Cardiac pacemaker
  • Implanted cardiac defibrillator 
  • Cochlear implants
  • Ocular implants
  • Joint replacement
  • Artificial limbs

Metal implants can also result in image distortion. Make sure to ask your healthcare provider about any risks or concerns when you go in for an MRI. 

An MRI machine involves laying on a surface that slides into a narrow tunnel. The patient is generally given ear protection to protect against the loud banging and clicking noises created by the machine. The MRI space is narrow and requires the patient to remain still. It can be claustrophobic for some patients. 

When Do Doctors Order an MRI?

Doctors can order an MRI, X-ray, CT scas, or other imaging tests to diagnose a patient, make a differential diagnosis, or monitor the treatment of patients. An MRI can be better at imaging certain tissues and body parts, including: 

  • Brain
  • Spinal cord
  • Nerves
  • Muscles
  • Ligaments
  • Tendons

Some of the most significant uses of an MRI is in brain scans. An MRI can look at gray matter and white matter in the brain, diagnose aneurysms, and detect possible brain tumors. Functional MRIs can also be used to observe brain activity for neurological review.

Your doctor may order an MRI for a number of reasons, including diagnosis or monitoring of: 

  • Stroke
  • Infections
  • Brain injuries
  • Brain tumor
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Brain hemorrhage
  • Blood clots
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Brain aneurysm
  • Knee replacement surgery
  • Hip replacement
  • Muscle injuries
  • Joint injuries  

Who Reviews an MRI?

Images from an MRI are usually reviewed by a radiologist. A radiologist makes a report and your doctor will get the report and tell you the results. A radiologist is a type of medical specialist. Radiologists are doctors and have to complete the same medical training, education, and licensing same other doctors. Radiologists also go through specialty education and training to become board-certified radiologists. 

The American Board of Radiology certifies qualifying doctors as radiologists. There are additional 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

Diagnostic radiology uses MRIs, X-rays, radionuclides, and ultrasound for diagnosis and treatment. Most diagnostic radiologists have to go through 1 year of clinical training and 4 years of radiology training. These radiologists may also go through a fellowship for an additional year. Subspecialties generally require additional years of fellowship, practice, and training. 

What Are Common Causes of MRI Errors?

An MRI can be compromised by errors in prescribing and interpreting exams. In a study published in the Survey of Ophthalmology, researchers found four common prescriptive errors and four common interpretive errors. The study found that many of the errors were avoidable and could be improved by better communication between doctors and radiologists.

Prescriptive errors involve failure to properly study the region of interest or apply the right modifications based on the relevant area. Types of prescriptive errors include:

  • Failure to apply a dedicated study
  • Inappropriate use of a dedicated study
  • Omission of intravenous contrast
  • Omission of specialized sequences

Interpretive errors involve the radiologist or clinician failing to consider whether the imaging diagnoses are appropriate to the patient’s symptoms. Interpretive errors can include:: 

  • Failure to detect the lesion because of misleading clinical information
  • Rejection of a clinical diagnosis because an expected imaging abnormality was absent
  • Assumption that a striking imaging abnormality accounted for the clinical abnormality
  • Failure to consider the lack of clinical specificity of imaging abnormalities

Another study published in the journal Magnetic Resonance Imaging looked at “sources of error in the quantitative analysis of MRI scans.” The researchers identified six sources of bias, resulting in MRI errors, including: 

  • Partial volume effects
  • Head tilt
  • Plane of view
  • Noncontiguous slices
  • Contrast/intensity manipulations
  • Magnetic inhomogeneities

According to one article, diagnostic error rates in imaging range from 3% to 5%. This may not sound like a lot but that amounts to about 40 million imaging diagnostic errors worldwide. Improving MRI review and diagnostic performance can reduce the risk of diagnostic injuries for patients, avoid unnecessary pain and suffering, and save lives. 

According to the author, “diagnostic errors are predictable events with readily identifiable contributing factors, many of which are driven by how we think or related to the external environment.” 

What Happens When There Is an MRI Error?

There are different types of MRI errors. Whenever there is an MRI error, it can pose a risk to the patient because they may not be getting accurate information about their medical condition. Different types of MRI errors can include: 

  • Errors by MRI tech
  • Interference and distorted images
  • Technological problems
  • Failure to submit the image to a radiologist for review
  • Inaccurate radiological review
  • Failure to communicate imaging results to the doctor
  • Failure of the doctor to communicate the results to the patient
  • Lack of follow-up
  • Communication errors
  • Failure to order an MRI

Many MRI mistakes involve diagnostic errors. Doctors are supposed to go through a diagnostic process before they make a medical diagnosis. This includes gathering all the relevant facts, analyzing data, making a differential diagnosis, and determining one or more medical conditions based on all the information. 

If there is a problem with the MRI image or the way the image was reviewed and reported, the doctor may not be able to make a proper diagnosis. For example, an MRI of the brain may show a brain tumor. However, if the radiologist missed the signs of a tumor and falsely reported no tumor in the brain, the doctor could not make an accurate diagnosis because of the misinformation. This could lead to a delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis, or failure to diagnose

When Is an MRI Error Considered Medical Malpractice?

An MRI error can be considered malpractice if there was professional negligence that led to injury or harm to the patient. The elements of a medical malpractice claim include: 

  • The doctor owed the patient a duty of care
  • The doctor deviated from medical standards
  • The deviation caused the patient’s injury
  • The patient suffered harm or damage as a result

The problem for most medical patients is that they don’t always know when an error is malpractice because they don’t know the professional medical standards of the specialty. This is why medical malpractice requires a medical expert to review the case and identify any deviations from standard medical procedures. 

Using an MRI Expert to Review Your Case 

Most medical malpractice cases are reviewed by medical experts who provide an initial report on the patient’s case. For an MRI error case, the expert may be a radiologist who understands the education, training, and standard practices of an MRI in a similar situation. In some states, your attorney has to file an affidavit or certification after filing the complaint. 

For example, in Maryland, the plaintiff must file an affidavit of merit within 90 days of filing a Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office claim. The certificate is generally from a medical expert who says there is a basis for the lawsuit, generally due to a departure from standards of care that caused the injury. 

In Illinois, under Illinois Compiled Statutes Section 2-622, the injury victim’s lawyer generally has to file an affidavit that the attorney has consulted and reviewed the facts of the case with a healthcare professional.

Radiologist Expert Testimony in a Malpractice Trial

After your attorney has gathered all relevant evidence in discovery, the medical expert will review the case and provide an expert report. The report will generally include: 

  • Qualifications of the medical expert
  • The information considered in the review
  • Summary of the information
  • Findings of a failure or medical deviation 
  • Findings the deviation was a proximate cause of the injury

Before a medical malpractice expert testifies in court, they will generally have to qualify as an expert. Generally, this means the expert has the knowledge, skill, experience, training, and/or education to provide a specialized opinion on the case. 

In most medical malpractice cases, the plaintiff and defendants will have their own medical experts. The plaintiff’s expert generally testifies that the doctor was liable for the injuries. The defendant’s expert generally finds the doctor is not liable for the damage. It is up to the jury to decide whether to find the doctor liable or not. 

What Damages Can I Recover in an MRI Malpractice Lawsuit?

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the injury victim is seeking damages or financial compensation for their losses. Damages include more than just money for medical bills and lost income. An injury victim can sue for both economic and non-economic losses. Damages in a malpractice lawsuit can include: 

  • Medical expenses
  • Future medical care costs
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of earning potential
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment in life
  • Loss of consortium
  • Emotional distress

How Do I File a Medical Malpractice Claim?

A medical malpractice case starts with an initial consultation. Most medical malpractice attorneys offer a free initial consultation so you can get a better idea of your case and if the attorney is the right choice for you. Medical malpractice is a specific type of legal practice because malpractice cases can be complex. Look for an attorney with a record of success with cases like yours. 

Your attorney will review your case and request a copy of your medical records to get an expert review. If you have a claim for medical malpractice, your attorney will file your case in your local county court. This will start the process of a medical malpractice lawsuit to get you the damages you deserve. 

Most medical malpractice cases are settled before they go to trial. However, it may still take months or years before you can reach a settlement agreement. A settlement will allow you to recover fair compensation without having to go through the stress and unpredictability of a trial. If you have questions about settlements in a malpractice case, talk to your attorney. 

If you think you may have been injured because of a radiologist or doctor making an MRI error, get the right legal team on your side. Experienced medical malpractice lawyers, like the trial attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian, have extensive experience in malpractice claims because they focus on just these types of cases. 

With the right law firm on your side, you will have the resources to help you recover damages after suffering an MRI error injury. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.


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