Radiology Misdiagnosis

Radiology is a specialized field that is responsible for administering tests and studying the results to diagnose the presence of injuries or illnesses. The radiologist gets information from the primary caregiver and gives a diagnosis that will determine the course of treatment.

Primary doctors have the history of the patient, blood tests, and exams to help him come up with possible problems the patient may have. The doctor then orders certain tests to help him find the proper diagnosis or confirm his diagnosis. The radiologist will either confirm or deny what the doctor suspects by reading the specialized tests.

Mistakes that Radiologists Make

Radiologists can see what doctors can’t see by interpreting the results of tests recommended by the doctor.

There are three types of mistakes that a radiologist can make:

1. Perceptual errors

An error in perception means not seeing what is in the film, account for 70% of the errors in misdiagnosis.

Some studies have shown there was a failure to detect the rate of 25-32% of cases where there was disease present. Some examples are as follows:

    1. Once an abnormality is found, the radiologist will stop looking any further
    2. Failure of the specialist to see a bone fracture
    3. Not seeing a bowel obstruction
    4. Failure to see blood bleeding in the brain
    5. Failure of the specialist to see an aneurysm
    6. Failure of the radiologist to see cancer cells

2. Cognitive errors

These make up the other 30%. This occurs when the radiologist sees what is in the film but doesn’t realize the significance.

    1. Radiologist may view the test as normal when there is a problem
    2. Radiologist may view the test as abnormal when it is normal
    3. Radiologist may misread findings of a mammogram

3. Too much radiation may be administered during the testing

This may happen when safety precautions are not followed such as shielding the body with a lead apron that covers all areas except what needs to be x-rayed. The x-ray room itself must be shielded properly as well to protect from overexposure. Another problem could be in the calibration of the machine.

If it is not calibrated properly, the patient can be exposed to excessive amounts of radiation. It is extremely difficult to prove negligence in this case because radiation exposure isn’t even apparent in a patient until many years have passed. Also, equipment failure as in the machine not being calibrated properly isn’t necessarily medical malpractice at all.

What Are the Results of Malpractice Cases?

Half of all malpractice cases against radiologists are dismissed. Furthermore, only 5% ever end up with a verdict. Radiologists are in the bottom third of the medical field to be involved in a malpractice suit. Only about 2% will ever pay out a claim as a result of a suit. The leading cause for a radiologist being accused of malpractice has been because of missing a diagnosis from a mammogram.

Even though misdiagnosis is prevalent in malpractice lawsuits and most of the time a radiologist must have been involved in the diagnosis; there is still no reasonable standard of care on radiologists. Because of this, it is difficult to prove any malpractice because there is nothing to compare the actions of a radiologist to to prove negligence.

Mistakes can occur if tests were not properly viewed or the tests were confused with another patient. The patient would also have had to have a serious consequence as a result of the test being misread or misplaced.

Maybe cancer was not detected in time for treatment to help or a broken bone went undetected until a more serious injury occurred. It would still be very difficult to prove the radiologist acted maliciously or acted differently than other radiologists. In any case, if you feel you were harmed substantially by the actions of a radiologist, consult with a lawyer to see if there is any cause for action.


  1. John H. Fisher, Attorney at Law, 1/29/2014
  2. MedPage Today, The Gupta Guide, Sanjay Gupta, MD, Editor, Misdiagnosis: Can it be Remedied?
  3. Malpractice Claims against Radiologists Often Dismissed, but Fears Persist, October 01, 2012, RSNA News
  4. AllLaw, Medical Malpractice Claims for X-Ray Overexposure, by Zachary Matzo