Radiologist trainees prevail in 69% of rare malpractice cases brought against them

Radiologist trainees prevail in more than 69% of the rare malpractice cases brought against them, researchers reported Friday.

In fact, out of 580 such suits naming physicians-in-training as defendants between 2009 and 2018, only 4% targeted a member of the specialty. Radiology litigation most frequently involved alleged misdiagnoses (61%) or procedural complications (30%), Emory University School of Medicine experts wrote in JACR.

“Despite concerns expressed about medical malpractice liability faced by trainees and the risk faced by faculty working with trainees, our analysis of actual court documents indicates that such claims are not only uncommon but also decreasing over time,” Kenneth Tharp, MD, MBA, with the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at the Atlanta-based institution, and colleagues reported Nov. 13.

For their study, Emory and University of Michigan experts queried LexisNexis, pinpointing all suits yielding court opinions involving doc trainees. They also systematically reviewed judicial records looking for malpractice matters in which these providers were “materially” involved.

Tharp et al. whittled the list down to 580 confirmed cases tied to all physician trainees during the study period. The numbers appeared to be trending downward from a high of 70 in 2010 and 2011, down to a low of 37 by 2016. New York (34%), Ohio (7%) and Pennsylvania (6%) were the states with the highest totals. Meanwhile, surgeons (35%), obstetricians/gynecologists (20%), and internal medicine specialists (18%) saw the highest number of complex malpractice complaints.

Radiology landed at seventh on the list at 4%, with an incidence ratio of 0.79 per 1,000 trainee years. That’s compared to an overall rate of 0.63 across all physicians in the study, versus 4.25 for OB/GYN providers and 2.62 for surgeons at the top of the list. Of the 23 radiology-related cases in the analysis, 30% individually named trainees as a defendant. And 69.2% of the 13 matters with a defined outcome resulted in a radiologist defendant prevailing, compared to 30.8% in which plaintiffs won on at least one count.

“These consistent observations about radiologists’ relatively lower risk of malpractice litigation compared with some other specialties might help assuage fears by some—regardless of career stage—who might dwell on such matters,” Tharp and colleagues wrote.

Read more of the analysis in the Journal of the American College of Radiology here.