A questionable practice in the medical field has led to serious injuries and fatalities across the nation. Teleradiology and the lack of communication it encourages may lead to critical medical mistakes. Few hospitals choose to bear the expense of keeping radiologists on staff 24 hours a day. Instead, they use subcontractors to review X-rays, CT scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. This means that, in many cases, the person reading your scans will never speak to your doctor.
In addition to the impact it has on communication, it also calls into question the qualifications of the person reading your scan. By separating a patient from the person who is relied on to make important medical judgments, teleradiology increases the chance of a mistaken diagnosis. It also raises the possibility of out and out fraud, wherein a company uses untrained and inexpensive employees to read countless scans, using a qualified doctor only when a signature is required.
A patient’s history and condition often affect how a scan should be interpreted. If your doctor fails to make note of a key detail in the email to a radiologist, or if the radiologist fails to see the note, a life threatening condition could go unrecognized. A missed diagnosis can cost you your life if you are suffering a stroke, brain hemorrhage, internal bleeding or other serious health problem. With so much at stake, patients and doctors should be uncomfortable not knowing who is in charge of reading these scans.
The reality is that it is impractical for most hospitals to maintain their own radiology departments around the clock. The use of teleradiology is not likely to change. It is up to patients and their loved ones to ensure that their care is being managed properly. When mistakes are made, it is vital to hold the hospital accountable for the damage they have done. The problem will only get worse if serious medical errors are ignored.
Source: CondéNet, “Is a doctor reading your X-rays? Maybe not,” Katherine Eban, 26 October 2011