Radiology is an area of medical specialty that involves the evaluation and interpretation of images and films generated by tests such as X-Rays, CT Scans, MRIs, Mammograms, Sonograms and Ultrasounds. Radiologists, the individuals who are trained to read and interpret these images, are often the first line of defense for a hospital or emergency room physicians as the radiologist can often see what the doctors treating the patient cannot: fractured vertebrae, broken bones, internal bleeding, aneurysms, pulmonary emboli and many other life threatening conditions. When a radiologist fails to properly read and interpret these kinds of studies, your health is at risk. For example, a radiologist may miss a fractured vertebrae in a patient’s neck or back on a CT scan or an MRI, a fracture that could, if the vertebrae becomes displaced toward the spinal cord, result in paralysis. Under different circumstances, a radiologist may miss an aneurysm or early stages of an aortic dissection (a tear in your main blood vessel coming out of your heart) that could rupture and cause you to die. When these kinds of errors happen, they may amount to medical malpractice. Although in most cases the radiologist does not communicate with the patient directly, the radiologist’s failure to properly read or interpret a study affects how emergency room physicians and other doctors care and treat their patients. Accordingly, if a radiologist misreads an image or film and mistakenly rules out the condition that you have, your doctors may fail to treat your for that condition.
Another common medical error that radiologists make is failing to timely read and interpret studies and/or failing to timely communicate those results to the physicians that have requested the studies. For example, all radiological studies that are requested while a patient is in the emergency room are ordered on a STAT (or immediate) basis. Most hospitals have policies and procedures that require radiologists who receive a STAT order for a radiological study to interpret those studies within a short period of time, typically a half hour to an hour, of the study being completed. These same hospitals also have policies and procedures that require the radiologists to communicate the results to the ordering doctor within a certain amount of time after the study is completed, typically 10-20 minutes.
Radiological studies are also commonly used to monitor patients with chronic conditions, like tumors, or diagnose patients with various forms of cancer. Not surprisingly, if these radiological studies are not read and interpreted properly, devastating consequences can occur. In some instances, radiologists simply fail to detect the presence of a tumor before it is too late to successfully treat a patient. In other instances, radiologists fail to detect that a known tumor has grown in size or has spread to other areas of the body.