Radiologists and their Med-Mal Insurance Coverage

In the United States, radiology is a high-growth specialty that is becoming increasingly competitive with the advent of new technologies. The American Board of Radiology (ABR) certifies radiologists, and the American College of Radiology is the largest professional organization for radiologists with more than 30,000 members.

Radiology does not include as many high-risk, highly invasive procedures as a surgical specialty, so radiologists do not pay the highest premiums for malpractice insurance, but they are also not at the low end of the spectrum. This means that radiologists can expect to pay less than, for example, obstetricians or neurosurgeons, but more than internists or psychiatrists for professional liability insurance. Premiums vary greatly based on factors such as geographic location, hours worked and patients seen per week, previous claims, and previous practice experience. Rates are much lower in rural, non-litigious states, like Texas, than in urban and litigious states like New York.

Radiologists who are concerned about the risk of a malpractice suit should educate themselves about risk management. Generally, malpractice occurs when a physician fails to meet the relevant established standard of care. Many radiology malpractice claims involve error in the interpretation of a radiograph. Causes of this type of error include inadequate technique, lack of perception or erroneous assessment of radiologic indications, insufficient training or inadequate communication. The most common specific cause of a radiology suit is missed diagnosis of breast cancer from a mammogram. To combat these errors, radiologists can take steps like improving their documentation systems, seeking second opinions when they are unsure and establishing effective channels of communication with patients and colleagues.

Though radiologists should be aware of the common causes of lawsuits and use extra caution where appropriate, there is some evidence that radiologists overestimate the risk of a lawsuit. A 2009 study found that radiologists in diverse regions of the country estimated the risk of being sued in the next five years at an average of about 40 percent, while the actual likelihood based on data from the previous five years was closer to 10 percent.

Radiologists should know the common causes of malpractice lawsuits and practice good risk management, but also keep a realistic view about liability exposure and avoid practicing defensive medicine. Physicians in the specialty who are concerned about the medical legal climate should contact their political representatives and support the advocacy efforts of their professional organizations.

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