Common patterns in 558 diagnostic radiology errors

J Med Imaging Radiat Oncol. 2012 Apr;56(2):173-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1754-9485.2012.02348.x.


Introduction: As a Quality Improvement initiative our department has held regular discrepancy meetings since 2003. We performed a retrospective analysis of the cases presented and identified the most common pattern of error.

Methods: A total of 558 cases were referred for discussion over 92 months, and errors were classified as perceptual or interpretative. The most common patterns of error for each imaging modality were analysed, and the misses were scored by consensus as subtle or non-subtle.

Results: Of 558 diagnostic errors, 447 (80%) were perceptual and 111 (20%) were interpretative errors. Plain radiography and computed tomography (CT) scans were the most frequent imaging modalities accounting for 246 (44%) and 241 (43%) of the total number of errors, respectively. In the plain radiography group 120 (49%) of the errors occurred in chest X-ray reports with perceptual miss of a lung nodule occurring in 40% of this subgroup. In the axial and appendicular skeleton missed fractures occurred most frequently, and metastatic bone disease was overlooked in 12 of 50 plain X-rays of the pelvis or spine. The majority of errors within the CT group were in reports of body scans with the commonest perceptual errors identified including 16 missed significant bone lesions, 14 cases of thromboembolic disease and 14 gastrointestinal tumours. Of the 558 errors, 312 (56%) were considered subtle and 246 (44%) non-subtle.

Conclusion: Diagnostic errors are not uncommon and are most frequently perceptual in nature. Identification of the most common patterns of error has the potential to improve the quality of reporting by improving the search behaviour of radiologists.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnostic Errors / classification*
  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality Improvement*
  • Retrospective Studies