The largest private employer in the United States, Walmart Inc., recently announced a plan to combat excessive healthcare spending for its employees. One of the culprits they say? Countless people being misdiagnosed because of diagnostic imaging errors. In fact, the company says a significant number of its workers are being misdiagnosed by their doctor or being treated with unnecessary surgery when only non-surgical interventions are needed. Beyond the wasted resources spent on medical expenses, the costs of being misdiagnosed are extremely high for those who have been victims of medical misdiagnosis.
Understanding Diagnostic Imaging Errors
A diagnostic imaging error occurs when a radiograph is misinterpreted or misread. A radiograph refers to any image produced on a film or sensitive plate by radiation, including X-rays or gamma rays. Other terms for radiographs include radiology tests and imaging tests. The most common radiology tests used for medical diagnosis are magnetic resonance imaging tests (MRIs), computed tomography scans (CT or CAT scans), and X-rays. While these tests can be an invaluable source of information during the diagnostic process, they can be equally harmful if a doctor or radiologist misinterprets the results.
Some research has revealed that diagnostic imaging errors occur in between 3% and 5% of cases everyday in an average radiology practice. Other research shows higher error rates on more detailed imaging tests such as MRIs and CT scans, with misdiagnosis and related errors occurring in up to 30% of cases.
How does Imaging Test Misdiagnosis Happen?
Errors with diagnosis and imaging tests may have any number of causes, including mistakes by a technician, such as failure to position the patient appropriately during the test; lack of knowledge, experience, or training on the part of the radiologist; or simply the radiologist reading the images too quickly, while tired, or while affected by another circumstantial influence.
Unfortunately, two radiologists can provide entirely different diagnoses when interpreting the same MRI, X-ray, or CT scan images. In addition, some have more experience and skill in diagnosing certain conditions and areas of the body, such as the back, knees, heart, or brain. With the vast array of potential causes, it is not surprising that errors with radiology results frequently give rise to medical malpractice claims in New Jersey and across the country.
Impact of Misreading Imaging Tests
Some diagnostic imaging errors have little to no impact on the treatment process or the care received by the patient. Others, however, can cause significant problems when the patient is misdiagnosed; the condition is left undiagnosed and untreated, thus allowing it to progress; or the patient receives the wrong treatment due to an initial misreading of their test results.
Lisa Woods, senior director of benefits design for Walmart, said errors with test results and misreadings of X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans account for the high rates of misdiagnosis and wasted spending on the wrong treatment. Walmart’s higher-ups became aware of the problem in their organization after learning that approximately half of the employees who underwent back surgery at Mayo Clinic in the last several years ultimately did not need these procedures. According to Walmart, workers who had these unnecessary surgeries had either experienced an initial misdiagnosis of their condition, or the condition should have been treated with medication, physical therapy, or other non-invasive alternatives.
Is there a Way to Prevent Radiology Errors?
While some radiology errors are simply not preventable, there are some ways to improve the chances of a correct imaging test diagnosis. For example, Walmart is now partnering with Covera Health, a company that analyzes data from radiology providers to identify those with the highest rates of accuracy when diagnosing conditions ranging from back and knee problems to cancer. Along with the accuracy of the readings themselves, Covera includes a variety of other factors when evaluating each imaging center, some of which include:
- The training and experience of physicians
- The use of industry-accepted patient protocols; and
- The specific equipment and devices used to produce imaging test results
Using information from Covera, Walmart intends to encourage its workers, through company-wide policies, to seek out imaging tests from radiology centers with a proven track record of more accurate results. The idea is to emphasize the quality of radiology services, as opposed to the cost. For the last several years, Walmart has been implementing policies like this for its employees across the healthcare spectrum. For instance, it specifically sends its employees and their families to hospitals and medical facilities with the best success rates for cancer treatment, heart surgery, joint replacement, spine surgery, and organ transplants.
What Can be Done when Misdiagnosed from Imaging Test Errors
Diagnostic imaging errors are not solely impacting Walmart’s workers, as these medical errors are common among everyday Americans from all walks of life. Even Woods pointed out that errors with imaging tests and misdiagnosis were pervasive: “Unfortunately, it is all over the country. It’s everywhere.”
It goes without saying that effective treatment starts with the right diagnosis. Unfortunately, the chances of you receiving the most appropriate, effective medical care can be dramatically reduced when the imaging test results that doctors rely on to formulate a treatment plan are not accurately interpreted.
If you have been misdiagnosed because of radiology errors or your condition went undiagnosed and you suffered further complications, you may have grounds to pursue compensation. Fronzuto Law Group is here to investigate your individual case to uncover possible negligence on the part of medical providers and facilities involved in your care. Contact us at 973-435-4551 to discuss your case with an experienced team of New Jersey medical malpractice attorneys and find out more about your legal options.
For further information regarding this issue, access the following article: To Improve Health, Cut Costs, Walmart Pushes For Better Medical Imaging For Workers