Certain policies adopted by hospitals concerning diagnostic studies made in an emergency room setting may lead to malpractice claims against the institution. Frequently, a treating physician orders an x-ray, a CAT scan, or an MRI for a patient who has presented himself or herself in the emergency room. If the hospital’s policy permits the treating physician to read the diagnostic test, the patient may be discharged if the reading is interpreted by the emergency room physician as negative. As a general rule, the x-ray or other test is usually later reviewed by a radiologist. If this radiologist disagrees with the interpretation made by the emergency room physician, the patient should be notified and instructed to return to the hospital. However, what happens if the hospital is unable to locate the discharged patient or if the problem has substantially worsened without treatment? A potential malpractice action.
Another issue giving rise to potential malpractice claims is a physician’s failure to read the entire x-ray or diagnostic test. Generally, an x-ray is taken of a particular portion of the body in response to a specific ailment of a patient. The radiologist may read the film for the reason it was ordered and correctly determine that the suspect area is not diseased. However, if there is another body part shown on the x-ray that is not healthy and it is not discovered, any patient injured by this failure to properly and thoroughly read the x-ray may be able to claim that the radiologist failed to meet the standard of care that required him or her to consider all structures or body parts seen on the x-ray.
A third problem arising from the use of x-rays or CAT scans is the improper placement of a needle in performing a biopsy on a suspicious mass. The physician uses the x-ray or CAT scan to aid in the placement of the needle. However, if the needle is not properly placed in the mass, the biopsy may give a false negative when in fact the mass was cancerous.
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