Report: 80% of radiology-related malpractice claims lead to permanent injury, death

A report evaluating five years of radiology-related medical professional liability claims was released this week finding that 80 percent of all diagnosis-related claims stem from the misinterpretation of clinical tests. Additionally, 80 percent of missed diagnosis claims in radiology result in either permanent injury or death.

The analysis comes from insurance agency Coverys, which covers medical practitioners and health systems and reportedly launched the annual project in an attempt to “reduce risks and improve patient safety.”

“Errors in radiology are unfortunately common and can have a severe and potentially life-threatening effect on those patients who are impacted by mistakes like a missed, delayed or incorrect diagnosis,” Robert Hanscom, Coverys’ vice president for business analytics and the author of the new report, said in a release. “Examining radiology claims data can help signal potential vulnerabilities, and by analyzing claims data and assessing where these gaps in clinical care and education lie, there is a real opportunity to reduce error, prevent harm and improve patient outcomes.”

Hanscom and his colleagues analyzed more than 10,000 of Coverys’ closed claims for their research, focusing on identifying major risk factors and safety vulnerabilities for claims filed between 2013 and 2017.

The report includes key findings, such as the fact that around 15 percent of malpractice claims with a diagnosis-related allegation involve radiologists—a portion second only to general medicine providers. Eighty percent of diagnosis-related claims result from the misinterpretation of clinical tests, the authors wrote, and more than 80 percent of those cases in radiology involved either serious injury or death.

Among those radiology claims alleging diagnostic failure, cancer misdiagnoses were most common, according to the data, with breast, lung, pancreatic and ovarian cancers among the most prevalent.

“A recent report by the Institute of Medicine specifically references radiology and pathology professionals and emphasizes their critical role in the determination of accurate diagnoses,” Hanscom wrote in the report. “However, as the malpractice data shows, these providers are not always engaged as part of the diagnostic team.”

The Coverys team dedicated a section of their report to risk recommendations for radiology, which included standardizing treatment protocols, using decision support films and developing reporting templates. The researchers also suggested separating incidental findings and their recommendations from the rest of an imaging report, implementing checklists and formal quality improvement methods and using clear language to minimize misunderstandings.

“Radiologists play a critical role in the delivery of an accurate patient diagnosis, and by learning from historic data and identifying the areas most prone to mistakes, we can proactively reduce errors prior to harm ever reaching the patient, leading to better overall outcomes,” Hanscom said.