7 Apr, 2023

Negligence vs Malpractice in Radiology

Author Todd A. Strong

To understand negligence vs malpractice in radiology, you must first understand the basic differences between the two definitions. The difference between medical negligence and medical malpractice typically boils down to a healthcare professional’s awareness or intent.

 

While medical negligence is usually related to an accidental action that causes patient harm, medical malpractice is usually related to medical mistakes caused by a medical professional. For instance, medical negligence may occur when a surgeon is performing a routine procedure and accidentally nicks a blood vessel, causing injury to the patient. Medical malpractice may occur when a surgeon is performing surgery without first performing necessary exams, evaluations, or tests, and this lack of duty results in injury to the patient.

dictionary definitions of negligence and malpractice
dictionary definitions of negligence and malpractice

What Are the Responsibilities of a Radiologist?

Radiologists are medical doctors who perform diagnostic testing procedures and radiology procedures on patients. According to the American College of Radiologists, medical education and training include at least 13 years of study to receive board certification in the field of radiology. Additionally, continued education and training are required to maintain board certification due to yearly changes and technological advances in radiology testing and diagnostic procedures.

Radiologists are responsible for patient procedures commonly performed in diagnostic radiology, interventional radiology, and oncology radiology. While diagnostic radiology focuses on a variety of image tests, interventional radiology and oncology radiology focus on administering certain intravenous medical treatments to patients.

Diagnostic Radiology

Diagnostic radiologists administer image testing to patients to detect certain problems such as broken bones, neck and spinal cord injuries, slipped discs, skull fractures and brain injuries, internal injuries, and certain types of cancers. Common diagnostic tests include CT scans, fluoroscopy, MRI, mammography, ultrasound imaging, and X-rays.

Interventional Radiology

Interventional radiologists administer patient treatments that require the use of minimally invasive medical equipment and instruments. Through a small incision in the patient's body, instruments are carefully guided to a specific location to deliver targeted treatments. Interventional radiology is commonly used on patients who have conditions, such as arterial or venous blockages, certain types of cancers, heart disease, liver and kidney disease, stroke, and uterine fibroid.

Interventional radiology may also be used for imaging during the insertion of catheters, intravenous lines, and other medical devices and tools.

Oncology Radiology

Oncology radiologists are highly trained doctors and specialists who diagnose and administer treatments specifically to cancer patients. They manage and oversee cancer patients' treatment plans and monitor their progress during radiology procedures. Radiation oncologists receive extensive training in cancer medicine, in the safe use of radiation to treat disease, and in managing any side effects caused by radiation.

Negligence Vs. Malpractice in Radiology

To understand negligence vs malpractice in radiology, you must first understand the basic differences between the two definitions. The difference between medical negligence and medical malpractice typically boils down to a healthcare professional’s awareness or intent.

While medical negligence is usually related to an accidental action that causes patient harm, medical malpractice is usually related to medical mistakes caused by a medical professional. For instance, medical negligence may occur when a surgeon is performing a routine procedure and accidentally nicks a blood vessel, causing injury to the patient. Medical malpractice may occur when a surgeon is performing surgery without first performing necessary exams, evaluations, or tests, and this lack of duty results in injury to the patient.

There is often a fine line between negligence vs malpractice in radiology procedures. According to the law, doctors, and other medical professionals owe their patients a duty of care that protects patients from any type of harm or injury while patients are under their care. When a medical professional fails to take reasonable care of a patient to avoid causing illness, injury, disease, or death, it may be blamed on medical negligence or medical malpractice depending on how the injury occurred.

Filing a patient injury claim against a radiologist depends on the 4 Ds of medical negligence, which include the duty of care, the deviation from duty, the damages the patient incurs, and the direct cause of the patient's damages. Duty of care is a significant consideration when determining negligence vs malpractice in radiology cases.

According to legal definitions, medical negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care that another medical professional would exercise in like circumstances. In tort law, medical negligence applies to patient harm caused by carelessness, not intentional harm. Medical malpractice is often linked to physician errors or omissions. As such, the law looks at what caused the mistakes, the patient's treatment plan or procedure, the physician's decisions, and the medical safety protocols that were in place during the patient's treatment.

While medical negligence and medical malpractice are similar in definition, they each have unique clarifications under the law. Generally, medical negligence occurs when a healthcare professional makes an honest mistake that leads to a patient's injury. Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional is aware of the possible consequences for the patient caused by a medical mistake or error, prior to making the mistake that leads to the patient's injury.

When Can You Sue a Radiologist?

Before making a legal determination about radiology malpractice cases, the law looks at a variety of circumstances that must prove medical negligence or malpractice in court. In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the party filing the lawsuit (the plaintiff) must successfully prove four facts in court—the radiologist (the defendant) had a duty of care toward his or her patient, the radiologist breached his or her duty of care to the patient, the patient (the plaintiff) suffered injuries caused by the defendant's breach of duty, and the patient's injury resulted in damages.

In all medical malpractice lawsuits, the plaintiff is always responsible to establish the burden of proof against the defendant in a civil lawsuit.

When cases involve radiology procedures, the most common issue is a missed or delayed patient diagnosis that leads to patient injuries, but there are other common problems that also occur rather frequently:

    •    Communication errors

    •    IV infiltration of contrast material

    •    Medication errors

    •    Mislabeled images

    •    Radiation overdoses

Medication Errors

According to the Institute of Medicine, medication errors are one of the most common types of errors that occur in hospitals, emergency rooms, outpatient clinics, urgent care facilities, and long-term care facilities. In the United States, medication errors are responsible for injuries to more than 1.5 million people every year, and they cause death to at least one person every day. Medication errors are commonly linked to incorrect medications and incorrect doses given to patients.

Hospitals with radiologists on staff note that medication errors are commonly linked to incomplete patient information such as medical diagnoses, allergies to certain drugs, current medications, and test results. Miscommunication about medications is often caused by confusion between drugs with similar names, misplacement of zeroes or decimal points, confusion of metric and other dosing units, inappropriate abbreviations, and poor physician handwriting. In some cases, where medications are prepared and repackaged into smaller units for patients, a lack of appropriate labeling leads to medication errors.

Radiation Overdoses

In some malpractice cases, patients receive radiation overdoses caused by physician error. These cases often involve the use of linear accelerators, devices that use concentrated doses of pinpoint radiation to treat certain types of cancers, tumors, and other abnormalities in patients.

In radiology, linear accelerators are commonly used to treat brain tumors and tumors in the neck, spine, and pelvis with stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS). Injuries from linear accelerators have been reported to be caused by radiation leaking from the accelerators into healthy human tissue. Reported results include a variety of patient injuries including loss of balance, inability to walk, speak, or eat, memory loss, and near-comatose conditions. Many cases involve operator errors, as well as calibration problems with the radiation device. Nationwide warnings have been issued alerting radiologists to be extra vigilant when using linear accelerators for standard radiation therapy or when performing SRS.

Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

To sue for medical malpractice in Illinois, you must file your lawsuit according to the Illinois statute of limitations. According to state laws, you must file your lawsuit in an Illinois court within two years of the date your injury occurred, the date that you actually discovered your injury, or the date that you should have reasonably known about your injury through the process of due diligence.

In medical malpractice lawsuits that involve radiology, cases are often complex due to the nature of the patient's injury, how the injury occurred, and the damages the patient suffered. When medical injuries occur, the outcome of every injury can be significantly different from patient to patient, even when patients receive the same surgery or radiology procedure. For this reason, it's best to consult an experienced and knowledgeable injury attorney who handles similar cases.
Before you decide to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against a hospital, clinic, or radiologist, it's important to gather the necessary information that will prove your injury claim. Hospitals and medical professionals are usually backed by large insurance companies who are prepared to dispute your claim for medical malpractice. Before you pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit, make sure you have a medical malpractice attorney on your side who can establish a valid injury claim that accounts for the difference between negligence vs malpractice in radiology, file your lawsuit on time, successfully prove your case in court, and get you fair compensation for the medical injuries you suffered.

About The Author

Photo of Todd A. Strong
Illinois workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyer Todd A. Strong is the founder of Strong Law Offices in Peoria, Illinois. Todd brings considerable legal knowledge, experience, and skill to the table to ensure injured victims throughout the state are treated with respect, dignity, and fairness.