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Can You Sue a Radiologist for Misdiagnosis in Pennsylvania?

Radiologists play a critical role in diagnosing and treating medical conditions. Using imaging technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography scans (CT), a radiologist provides vital information to a medical team or treating physician. When a radiologist makes an error that negatively impacts the health of a patient, they can be held legally responsible for the harm they caused. The Reiff Law Firm has decades of experience handling complex medical malpractice claims. Below, our Philadelphia medical malpractice attorney discusses filing a lawsuit against a negligent radiologist.

What Does a Radiologist Do in a Pennsylvania Hospital?

In some cases, it is easy to think of a radiologist as a consultant, using their tools and skills to render and interpret images that assist doctors in diagnosing and treating illness and disease. They will examine imagines that are ordered by a treating physician and offer their expert opinion after interpreting the results. Medical mistakes occur when an image is interrupted, or an abnormality is missed.

Radiologists are also skilled in the use of radiation as a medical treatment. Most people are familiar with the use of radiation treatments to treat some forms of cancer.

Like other medical professionals, a radiologist has a legal duty to provide an accepted standard of care for their patients. When they deviate from this duty, and a patient suffers a severe medical complication or death, they could be guilty of medical malpractice. Our Philadelphia failure to diagnose attorney will thoroughly review a radiologist’s conduct to determine if their actions constituted negligence.

Types of Mistakes a Radiologist can make

Usually, a misdiagnosis case is a result of a delayed diagnosis or of mismanagement of diagnostic testing. Common mistakes leading to injury include:

  • Failure to screen for a particular condition
  • Failure to diagnose a condition on the scan or misinterpretation of lab results
  • Failure to consult with the patient about his or her condition or failure to refer a patient to a specialist
  • Defendant was in a “rush” reading scans
  • Failure to compare patient’s scans with prior scans which were available
  • Diagnosis of a disease when none was present

Another situation that can result in, misdiagnosis is if there is a lack of communication between the radiologist and other physicians. Considering that radiologists often issue several reports each day, it is a possibility that the radiologist will not get their message across to the physician or patient. A relatively common situation is if the radiologist issues a preliminary report with normal findings, but discusses a potential abnormality in the full report. It is very possible that the physician may not read the full report, leading to a potential medical malpractice case, in which both the radiologist and physician would share liability for the damages.

One of the most common mistakes made by radiologists that result in medical malpractice lawsuits is the misdiagnosis of cancers. When a radiologist mistakes a cancerous tumor on the breast as benign or fails to notice a small growth on a lung, the consequences could be devastating for the patient. Many times, life-saving treatments are not prescribed in time. Because of the catastrophic impacts of misdiagnosing cancer, these types of errors often result in the highest awards. Our Pennsylvania failure to diagnose attorneys have decades of handling complicated misdiagnosis lawsuits.

However, every mistake is not medical malpractice. While the type of error is critical in a lawsuit, our medical malpractice attorney is concerned about whether the patient was harmed because the radiologist violated their duty of care. Even if the result is horrible, if a reasonable radiologist would have made the same mistaken diagnosis, then it is unlikely that the error constitutes negligence.

Misdiagnosis Caused by Miscommunication Between a Radiologist and a Physician in Pennsylvania

It is not uncommon for a radiologist to issue two separate reports, a preliminary report that addresses the request a treating physician made and a later, more comprehensive, report that details their findings of the entire image. In some cases, a doctor might not read the full report and rely entirely on the initial results. If a small abnormality is only mentioned in the full report, a cancerous tumor could be easily missed. This type of miscommunication between the doctor and the radiologist could result in medical malpractice.

If a patient is harmed, for example, failing to detect cancer, because of this miscommunication, our Philadelphia misdiagnosed cancer lawyer will try to establish that each medical professional’s shared liability. While the responsibility could be shared between the doctor and radiologist, a radiologist does have an obligation to ensure the treating physician is aware of any significant abnormality. Errors in communications often result in adverse medical complications or misdiagnoses.

Radiologists’ Medical Mistakes in Pennsylvania Emergency Rooms

Emergency rooms can be hectic, and the pace is usually much faster than a typical hospital setting. Because of the number of patients to diagnose, a radiologist might not have the time to review an X-ray or CT scan as they usually would. That does mean they can neglect their duties or feel free to cut corners. If a radiologist misses an abnormality on an X-ray or fails to inform the treating doctor, they could be held liable for any medical complications the patient suffers. Our office will investigate every step that resulted in a misdiagnosis when being treated in an emergency

The Duty of Care for Radiologists in Pennsylvania

How does our Pennsylvania personal injury attorney determine the duty of care? Unfortunately, there is not a set of regulations or rules that define a radiologist’s legal obligations towards their patients. Every lawsuit is different, and the circumstances that give rise to it are unique. Proving that a radiologist violated their duty of care typically requires an expert witness detailing what should have occurred.

A radiologist is usually tasked with a specific order from a treating physician. For example, a patient might be experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, so a doctor requests an MRI to determine if there was any significant damage to the heart. While scanning the heart for signs of cardiac arrest, a small mark on the patient’s lung is revealed. If the radiologist fails to note this mark in their report, a treating physician might miss an important piece of life-saving information.

Whether or not a radiologist is charged with a specific objective, they are still legally and ethically required to review the entire image. A radiologist must consider the whole image and examine it for any significant abnormality. Failing to do so could constitute medical malpractice if something critical was missed.

How Misdiagnosis Can Harm a Patient

There are several ways that a misread scan or misdiagnosis can cause harm to a patient. A misdiagnosis could lead to the development of a treatment plan that fails to address the problem, allows the problem to aggravate, and may lead to needless procedures. For example, a patient that is misdiagnosed with cancer may be exposed to harmful treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation that are completely unnecessary. Furthermore, a patient could even undergo surgical procedures that are unnecessary, leading to permanent scarring or disfigurement. Additionally, a patient may have to undergo more aggressive treatment due to the fact that the problem was not identified and treated earlier. Furthermore, a misdiagnosis could lead to delay that results in a medical condition that is so far aggravated that it is no longer treatable. This may lead to further psychological harm to the patient due to the fact that they may feel helpless or be faced with death. Finally, a misdiagnosis can cause harm to a patient if it leads to increased likelihood of complications or increased likelihood of death. In medical malpractice cases, it is not enough for there to be a misdiagnosis. The misdiagnosis must have actually caused direct harm to the plaintiff, and you must be able to demonstrate that in a medical malpractice case.

Requirements to Sue for Negligence

The fundamental thing to prove in a medical malpractice case involving misdiagnosis is that the radiologist breached the “medical standard of care” given your specific circumstances. It must be shown that the doctor failed to demonstrate the level of skill that a similarly experienced doctor would have demonstrated. Essentially, the question is—would a similarly-trained doctor have identified the health problem?

There are four elements to a medical malpractice claim that you must establish: duty, breach, causation, and damages. The first element is pretty straightforward—given the doctor-patient relationship, the radiologist has a duty to exercise reasonable care in diagnosing a patient. The medical specialist standard of care is a generally accepted rule that a specialist, like a radiologist, carries a certain degree of skill, care, and learning possessed by specialists of a similar status. Thus, they have the duty of carefully examining scans, communicating with the physician and the patient, as well as using diagnostic procedures to identify health problems. In a typical radiology malpractice case, the applicable standard of care will be established through the testimony of one or more medical experts. The expert will explain his or her education, training and experience, as well as his or her knowledge of the standard. This description of the standard will become relevant when the plaintiff’s expert testimony explains the deviation from the standard, thus committing malpractice.

The second element you must establish is that the radiologist breached the duty to reasonably care for the patient. In order to show a breach of duty, you will have to establish that the doctor acted negligently by showing that a different competent doctor would have diagnosed the patient correctly under the same circumstances.

Next, you must establish a causal connection between the misdiagnosis and the injuries you endured. You must be able to show that the misdiagnosis caused you harm, likely being the aggravation of a medical condition that was left untreated. The evidence here must actually be a “new injury”, meaning that a relatively treatable condition left untreated resulted in the development of a much more serious and threatening condition. This can be incredibly difficult to prove depending on the circumstances. For instance, there may be a case in which the doctor failed to diagnose cancer, but even if the cancer were detected in the initial time the scans were read, the defense could provide evidence that it would not have prevented the natural course of the disease, thereby failing to establish a causal connection.

The final element to establish is that the misdiagnosis caused you damages. For example, if your doctor misdiagnosed you, but prescribed you with medication that actually helped your condition, you wouldn’t be able to sue for medical malpractice, because you did not suffer any damages. Proving all of the elements is very difficult so it is especially vital to have an experienced misdiagnosis lawyer to increase your probability of receiving compensation for your injuries.

Types of Damages in a Medical Malpractice Case

As explained above, it is essential that you prove you endured damages as a direct result of a misdiagnosis. This is often the hardest part to establish before a jury, so it is important to understand what kinds of damages are considered to be recoverable. Such damages include:

  • Loss of income
  • Decrease in prospective earning capacity
  • Past and future medical expenses caused by the negligence
  • Disfigurement or scarring to the body
  • Shortening of life expectancy
  • Inability to engage in normal, everyday activities
  • Damage to family life or enjoyment of life
  • Past and future pain and suffering
  • Past and future emotional or mental anguish
  • Death

Call Our Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorneys for a Free Misdiagnosis Care Review

Failure to properly and prudently diagnose can lead to life altering injuries and substantial damage such as permanent injuries or death. If your radiologist failed to accurately diagnose your medical condition, leading to injury as a direct result of his or her negligence, you deserve to be compensated. Our Philadelphia personal injury lawyers have over three decades of experience handling complicated medical malpractice cases, and would be able to assist in the complex legal processes in order to ensure you receive the best outcome possible. Call our law office today at (215) 709-6940 for a free consultation.

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