Radiologists Are Among the Top 10 Most-Sued Specialists

Lucy Hicks

January 31, 2022

Nearly two thirds (64%) of radiologists report being named in a malpractice lawsuit, placing them ninth in the top 10 specialties most likely to be sued, according to the Medscape Radiologist Malpractice Report 2021.

Radiology ranked above cardiology (58%), and was surpassed by otolaryngology (68%), emergency medicine (70%), specialized surgery (74%), ob/gyn (79%), urology (80%), orthopedics (81%), and general and plastic surgery (both 83%). Fewer radiologists reported being sued during the 2021 survey compared with Medscape's 2019 Malpractice Report, when radiologists ranked 6th among all surveyed specialties, with 76% reporting a lawsuit. 

This new report was compiled from an online survey answered by more than 4300 physicians from 29 specialties. The survey was available from May 21 to August 28 and included 308 radiologists. More than half (56%) of respondents had practiced radiology for more than 25 years and 71% were aged 55 years or older.

Most radiologists responding (64%) said failure to diagnose/delayed diagnosis was the reason for the lawsuit, whereas just 31% of physicians overall had the same response. The second most common reason for a lawsuit was complications from treatment or surgery (14%), but this was less common in radiologists compared to physicians across all specialties (29%).

Although 30% of all specialists reported paying less than $10,000 annually for malpractice insurance premiums, just 12% of radiologists paid similar amounts. Most commonly, radiologists said they did not know the cost of their insurance (30%). Yearly premiums from $20,000 to $25,000 were the second most common (17%), followed by premiums between $10,000 and $15,000 (12%).

An overwhelming majority (92%) of radiologists reported being "very surprised" or "somewhat surprised" by the lawsuit, and 81% said the lawsuit was not warranted. Less than one tenth (7%) said the lawsuit was warranted, and 13% responded that they were not sure.

Radiologists more commonly settled the lawsuit before trial compared with the general physician pool (42% vs 33%.) The second most common outcome (14%) was the respondent being dismissed from the case within the first few months of trial. Only 1% of respondents said the judge or jury decided in the patient's favor, whereas 7% reported the court ruling in favor of the respondent. Fewer radiologists said the outcome of the lawsuit was fair compared with physicians in all specialties (53% vs 61%, respectively.)

Monetary payments in radiology lawsuits were higher than in the general physician pool. Whereas 40% of all physicians reported paying under $100,000 to the plaintiff, 30% of radiologists said the same. The most common response for radiologists (36%) was under $500,000 and 21% reported payments under $1 million. Comparatively, 35% of all physicians reported payments under $500,000 and just 15% reported payments under $1 million, according to the survey.

More than half of radiologists (56%) stated they would not have done anything differently compared with 43% of all physicians. About 1 in 10 radiologists (9%) said they would have "ordered tests that would have covered me in case a malpractice lawsuit was brought against me," 7% said they would have obtained a second opinion from a collogue, and 7% stated they would have had better chart documentation.

More radiologists compared with physicians overall said they did not undergo any attitude or career changes after the suit (64% vs 52%). While nearly a quarter (24%) of all physicians overall said they trusted patients less after the lawsuit, just 16% of radiologists said the same. Most radiologists (72%) also said the case had no negative effect on their career, though some noted some long-lasting consequences. For one doctor, the worst part of being sued was "the lasting humiliation of having to explain that I was sued and the case was settled each time I renew a license of privileges at a hospital." Said another radiologist, "I had to explain the unwarranted case for the last 20 years."

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