Medical malpractice claims naming physician trainees is infrequent, and the number of lawsuits is trending downward over time, according to the authors of a study.1
“We have heard disparate comments from academic colleagues that working with trainees either increases or decreases malpractice exposure,” says Richard Duszak, MD, one of the study’s authors and a professor and vice chair for health policy and practice in the department of radiology and imaging sciences at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
Duszak and colleagues wanted to help academic medical centers better understand this to reduce malpractice exposure. They analyzed 580 state and federal lawsuits from 2009 to 2018 involving physician trainees. Their focus was on radiology trainees, where missed diagnoses and procedural complications were common allegations. “Radiology medical malpractice cases are often difficult to defend because of hindsight bias of both expert witnesses and juries,” Duszak explains.
Individuals with knowledge about a bad outcome often expect providers to have fully understood the implications of a subtle imaging finding in real time. “To that end, we were pleasantly surprised to see that radiology trainee cases were not particularly common,” Duszak reports.
When such lawsuits do proceed through the courts, radiologists prevail commonly. “Although we were most interested in studying radiology trainees, we did report their risk in the context of trainees in other specialties,” Duszak says. Trainees in emergency medicine (e.g., surgery, obstetrics/gynecology) were at a higher-than-average risk of medical malpractice lawsuits. The authors did not study the persons or specialties who were co-defendants. Thus, it is unclear if emergency physicians also were named in claims against radiology trainees. However, says Duszak, “increasing both the frequency and quality of communication between radiologists and emergency physicians about imaging studies is always a good practice to facilitate patient care and mitigate mutual risk.”
- Tharp K, Branach C, Duszak R Jr. Relative prevalence and characteristics of malpractice litigation involving radiology trainees. J Am Coll Radiol 2020; Nov 14;S1546-1440(20)31125-X. doi: 10.1016/j.jacr.2020.09.067. [Online ahead of print].