One major theme in many of my blogs is that radiology residents and radiologists do make mistakes. We see them all the time in prior reports. We hear them from our fellow radiologists and clinicians. It is just part of the normal ebb and trough of the radiology resident or attending. I still remember one of my attendings from residency sagely saying we slowly get less sensitive over time. Then, we miss a finding and become overly sensitive until we become less sensitive again. And, this process continues throughout our radiological lifetimes, hopefully, as we try to reach perfection. Bottom line. If you are not making mistakes, you have not read enough films and you are not getting better. We acknowledge that. It’s who we are.
More importantly, we as radiologists have to protect each other from our mistakes. It is important that we don’t throw our radiology colleagues “under the bus”. Politically and ethically, treating our fellow colleagues well is just as important as writing good reports. We all need to be team players in order to protect our practice of radiology. So, what are some general rules for protecting our colleagues from their own mistakes? Well, that is the theme for today. A mini-instructional, if you will.
Contact Your Colleague Immediately
Contacting your colleague is probably the most important step in reducing the issues that ensue from a miss. Often times, I will read a bone scan and find the corresponding metastatic lesion on CT scan that can be very hard to detect prospectively. Immediately, I contact the physician who recently dictated the CT scan, usually on the same day. As a courtesy, this step allows this radiologist to create an addendum if warranted and prevents any harm from coming to the patient due to an incorrect report as well as the possibility of a lawsuit.
Sometimes, however, you may detect a miss from a while back, maybe months or years. In this situation, the offending physician can contact the caring physician or patient and/or make an addendum to his/her report to right the mistake. It may not prevent a lawsuit, but it certainly prepares the physician for the possibility. And, it also happens to be good patient care.
Don’t Highlight Mistakes On Prior Reports
This may seem obvious, but radiologists commit this offense one too many times. When your fellow radiologist misses a finding on a previous report, the last thing that you want to do in any way, shape, or form is to say explicitly that he/she missed the finding. If the patient catches wind of this miss, you will see dark clouds brew and lightning flicker through the air, about to target this unsuspecting radiologist and your practice too. You are asking for a lawsuit to strike down all those involved in the construction of the prior report!
Phone The Clinician Directly To Discuss The Case
Instead of adding the miss directly to the report, another good idea is to pick up the phone and call the clinician. The issues behind a radiologist miss can be better expressed sometimes by mouth than on paper. It allows you to guide the physician toward what he/she has to do next without having to state it officially on a report. Also, the less incrimination on paper, the less likely the radiologist with a miss will have to answer for his/her sins.
Use The Words New, Stable If Possible
Especially in mammography, the kiss of death for a radiologist with a miss on a prior report is to write that a mass has enlarged compared to his priors. In no uncertain terms, what you are really saying is that the radiologist missed the finding. Lawyers love this stuff! Not that you should lie, but many lesions cannot be seen prospectively because they are really too small to catch. So instead, if you can, use the word new. Or, just say a mass is present with a comparison date to the previous study. Even better, if the lesion was present and unchanged, you can safely say the lesion is stable without incriminating anybody. Stability is usually the radiologist’s friend!
A radiology practice is a team and if you don’t think like a team player, your team will break apart. Incriminating one’s colleagues for mistakes made (that we all make at times) is a selfish act and is one of the most unsporting behaviors out there. So, be a team player and think long and hard about what you will finally place in your report. It potentially can save your colleague from a lawsuit and allow you to earn respect from your practice as a team player!