Radiologists May Be Reluctant to Disclose Mammography Errors

Researchers find that most will take a 'don't ask, don't tell' approach with patients

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Few radiologists say they would definitely disclose an error affecting the diagnosis of a patient with breast cancer, according to a study in the Oct. 28 issue of Radiology.

Thomas H. Gallagher, M.D., of the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues conducted a survey of 364 radiologists at seven different Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium sites who interpreted mammograms in 2005 to 2006. The survey posed a scenario whereby a radiologist wrongly concluded that calcifications were decreasing when they were in fact increasing, delaying a cancer diagnosis, because the screening mammograms were placed in the wrong order.

The investigators note that, in all, 243 radiologists responded to questions relating to this scenario, and while 14 percent said they would definitely disclose the error to the patients, 26 percent said they probably would, 9 percent said they definitely would not, 51 percent said they would only if asked by the patient, and just 15 percent said they would overtly state that an error had occurred that led to a mistaken interpretation of their mammogram results.

"Physicians reluctance to disclose harmful medical errors may reflect more than simple self-protection," the authors write. "Cancer is treated at the stage in which it is diagnosed, and the impact of any delayed cancer diagnosis is irreversible. Thus physicians may question whether informing this patient about the error would be helpful."

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