CHICAGO—A mock jury trial that reconstructed the hypothetical malpractice case of a 35-year old woman who died of breast cancer after five CT exams and a CT coronary angiogram in 1998-2000 ended with a split decision on Nov. 25. Nevertheless, the proceedings achieved their purpose, Leonard Berlin, MD, of NorthShore University Health System in Chicago, told Health Imaging.
In the suit, the patient and her family claimed that the radiologist who read the exams should have discussed with the woman’s physician or the woman herself the possible link between radiation exposure and cancer.
The radiologist’s defense was based on the claim that the link between diagnostic radiation exposure and cancer is unproven, obviating the need to caution the woman or her physician, particularly since the physician believed the CT studies were necessary.
The trial showed the audience how a malpractice trial works and also explored a jury’s response to the issue of radiation exposure and cancer.
“The message to radiologists is that they have moral and possibly a legal duty to pick up the phone and discuss options with the referring physician if they are aware of ionizing radiation exam that is of questionable indication, particularly in young person or is a repeat exam,” Berlin said in an interview.
Rebecca Smith-Bindman, MD, of University of California, San Francisco, who testified for the plaintiff in the case, said the trial is a cautionary tale. She called for radiologists to develop two types of systems. They should ensure that all exams are performed at the lowest possible dose needed to achieve a diagnostic quality image. They also should ensure that there are processes to identify questionable exams and communicate the possible risks to the referring physician.