Radiology is a distinct specialty within the field of medicine with both diagnostic and therapeutic applications. Treating physicians in Minnesota often rely on data from radiologic imaging to make diagnoses and determine a treatment plan for patients with potentially life-threatening conditions. A breakdown in communication between a radiologist and a urologist allegedly caused a delayed diagnosis of a 49-year-old man’s colon cancer. The patient subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming that negligence on the part of both physicians led him to undergo surgery and chemotherapy treatment that would have been unnecessary had diagnosis occurred earlier.
Initially, the urologist treated the patient for kidney stones when he presented with right flank pain. Findings suspicious for colon cancer appeared on a computed tomography scan taken in preparation for the lithotripsy procedure. According to the standard of care, the radiologist should have personally followed up with the urologist to discuss the findings. The radiologist claims that he attempted to inform the urologist by phone but was unable to reach him, leaving a message containing no substantive message about the scan but only his name and the patient’s name.
According to court documents, the radiologist then faxed the radiology report to the urologist’s office. The critical findings allegedly appeared on page two. Per his own testimony, the urologist claims to have not noticed the second page of the report and acquired the information he needed for the lithotripsy from the first page alone.
The patient received a diagnosis of colon cancer 19 months after his kidney stone procedure when a workup as part of a life insurance application demonstrated elevated blood carcinoembryonic antigen levels. By that time, the cancer had metastasized and reached either Stage IIIB or Stage IV, with a 5-year survival chance of essentially 0 percent. The metastasis required an ongoing experimental course of chemotherapy and an extensive abdominal surgery that the patient alleges would not have been necessary had he received the diagnosis earlier. An earlier diagnosis, according to the lawsuit, would have improved the patient’s chances for survival by 50 to 75 percent.
Ultimately, the parties chose to settle the case. The radiologist and hospital agreed to pay the patient a combined $2,200,000. With $2,300,000 from the urologist, the patient is to receive a total of $4,500,000. No amount of money, however, can buy the patient his life back, and patients similarly suffering due to medical errors may wish to consult an attorney.