The Causes of Medical Malpractice Suits Against Radiologists in the United States

Radiology. 2013 Feb;266(2):548-54. doi: 10.1148/radiol.12111119. Epub 2012 Nov 30.

Abstract

Purpose: To determine the most frequent causes of malpractice suits as derived from credentialing data of 8401 radiologists.

Materials and methods: This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of New Jersey Medical School. A total of 8401 radiologists in 47 states participating in the network of One-Call Medical, a broker for computed tomographic/magnetic resonance studies in workers' compensation cases, were required to provide their malpractice history as part of their credentialing application. Of these, 2624 (31%) radiologists had at least one claim in their career. In each enrollee's credentialing file, if there was a claim against the enrollee there was a narrative regarding each malpractice case from which, in most instances, a primary allegation could be discerned. Among the 4793 cases, an alleged cause could be derived from the narrative in 4043 (84%). Statistical analysis was performed with Stata 12 (2011; Stata, College Station, Tex) software.

Results: The most common general cause was error in diagnosis (14.83 claims per 1000 person-years [95% confidence interval {CI}: 14.19, 15.51]). In this category, breast cancer was the most frequently missed diagnosis (3.57 claims per 1000 person-years [95% CI: 3.26, 3.91]), followed by nonspinal fractures (2.49 claims per 1000 person-years [95% CI: 2.28, 2.72]), spinal fractures (1.32 claims per 1000 person-years [95% CI: 1.16, 1.49]), lung cancer (1.26 claims per 1000 person-years [95% CI: 1.11, 1.42]), and vascular disease (1.08 claims per 1000 person-years [95% CI: 0.93, 1.24]). The category next in frequency was procedural complications (1.76 claims per 1000 person-years [95% CI: 1.58, 1.96]), followed by inadequate communication with either patient (0.40 claim per 1000 person-years [95% CI: 0.32, 0.50]) or referrer (0.71 claim per 1000 person-years [95% CI: 0.60, 0.84]). Radiologists had only a peripheral role in 0.92 claim per 1000 person-years (95% CI: 0.77, 1.10). Failure to recommend additional testing was a rare cause (0.41 claim per 1000 person-years [95% CI: 0.34, 0.50]).

Conclusion: Errors in diagnosis are, by far, the most common generic cause of malpractice suits against radiologists. In this category, breast cancer was the most frequently missed diagnosis, followed by nonvertebral fractures and spinal fractures. Failure to communicate and failure to recommend additional testing are both uncommon reasons for initiating a suit.

MeSH terms

  • Credentialing
  • Diagnostic Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Malpractice / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Poisson Distribution
  • Radiology / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Risk Factors
  • United States