Teleradiology Malpractice Risk

A new study in Radiology comes to an explosive conclusion: medical malpractice cases involving teleradiology interpretation of medical images more frequently involved patient death and had higher payment amounts. 

Perhaps no technology has wrought greater changes on the field of medical imaging than teleradiology. 

  • By leveraging radiology’s conversion to digital imaging and the rapid expansion of Internet bandwidth, teleradiology makes it possible for medical images to be interpreted independent of the radiologist’s location, with studies sometimes literally sent around the world. 

But teleradiology has had its share of unintended consequences, such as the emergence of nighthawk and specialty teleradiology firms that have seized hospital contracts from traditional radiology groups. 

But this week’s study in Radiology adds a new wrinkle, suggesting that teleradiology could actually have an additional malpractice risk. Researchers analyzed 3,609 malpractice claims, of which 135 involved teleradiology, finding that teleradiology cases…

  • Saw patient death occur more often (36% vs. 20%)
  • More frequently saw communication problems among providers (26% vs. 13%)
  • More often closed with indemnity payments (59% vs. 41%)
  • Had higher median indemnity payments ($339k vs. $214k) 

Why might problems be more frequent in teleradiology? The authors offered several reasons, including …

  • Teleradiologists may not have access to EMR and other patient data
  • Teleradiology interpretations are often provided at night and on weekends/holidays
  • Claims involving neurology and the emergency setting were more common, illustrating the challenges in these areas

Potential solutions could involve making sure that teleradiologists have access to EMR data, and by performing overreads of interpretations delivered on nights and weekends. 

The Takeaway
The findings have disturbing implications, not only for dedicated teleradiology providers but also for traditional radiology practices that use teleradiology as part of their service offerings. And as noted in an accompanying editorial, they could provide ammunition to teleradiology’s opponents, who continue to rail against the technology that has done so much to change radiology. 

Medical Malpractice Crisis

Is a new crisis looming in medical malpractice insurance? An AMA analysis finds that medical liability premiums are skyrocketing again – and radiologists may be among the physicians most affected due to their higher exposure to malpractice suits.

The proportion of medical liability premiums that increased year-to-year for OB/GYN, general surgery, and internal medicine doctors (radiologists weren’t surveyed) doubled from 2018 to 2019 (13.7% to 26.5%), and went up 30% year-to-year from 2020 to 2022. The last time rates rose this fast was during the medical liability crisis of the early 2000s, according to the AMA paper.

Insurers are raising premiums due to deteriorating underwriting results, lower loss reserve margins, and lower returns on investment, per the report. These trends are echoed in a new analysis of the medical malpractice segment by credit agency AM Best, which describes a “difficult environment” for medical liability insurers. The medical professional liability segment has seen eight straight years of underwriting losses.

Why should radiologists care? Well, radiologists are more likely to have experienced medical liability claims during their career than most other physicians. Another AMA survey of over 6k doctors found

  • Radiologists were more likely to say they had been sued in their career than all physician types (40.2% vs. 32.1%)
  • More radiologists have experienced a lawsuit in the past year than all physicians (4.2% vs. 2.0%)
  • The only other medical specialists more likely to be sued than radiologists were surgeons (48.9%) and emergency medicine physicians (46.8%) 

The first AMA report closes by saying that a medical liability insurance “hard” market – a market characterized by rapid price increases – already exists in a number of states, and is “slowly spreading” across the rest of the US. 

Further, there is “striking” geographic variation in premiums. OB/GYNs in Los Angeles County, California see average manual premiums of $49,804 a year, while those in Miami-Dade County, Florida are staring at a $226,224 liability insurance bill.

The Takeaway 

The AMA said the growing medical malpractice crisis could have multiple ramifications. Physicians in states with difficult liability environments could relocate or even drop some clinical services that raise their risk. Will the worsening environment draw the attention of state and federal regulators? Only time will tell. 

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