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Malpractice – Increased Risk for Diagnostic Physicians

According to a recent article published in the “Journal of the American College of Radiology,” the rapid growth of diagnostic testing appears to be placing physicians at greater risk for medical malpractice claims. The reason: test communication failures. As clinical evaluation often depends on diagnostic tests, it is imperative that diagnostic physicians notify the referring physician of any urgent or unexpected findings. The result in failing to do so: a medical malpractice claim.

The article referenced a study in which it was demonstrated that between 1996 and 2003, malpractice payments related to diagnosis increased by approximately 40 percent (40%). Contributing factors in malpractice cases associated with communication failures include, for example, failure of physicians and patients to receive results, delays in report findings, and lengthy turnaround time. Referencing data from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), the authors found that the total indemnity payout across all medical specialties for U.S. claims, related to these types of communication failures, increased from $21.7 million in 1991 to $91 million in 2010. Linear regression analysis of data from 1991 to 2009 indicated that communications related claims payments increased at the national level by an average of $4.67 million annually.

Over the same period, NPDB data showed that communication failure awards accounted for an increasing proportion of total U.S. malpractice awards for all providers. The proportion increased by a factor of 1.7, from 0.93 percent in 1991 to 2.31 percent in 2009.
The author recommends that healthcare organizations need clear policies that define the responsibility of reporting any urgent or unexpected findings to the referring providers, to ensure patient follow-up.