Although many professional medical organizations recommend disclosing errors to patients, studies suggest that disclosure is the exception rather than the rule. Mammography poses several issues related to error disclosure, including that—because of regular screening mammograms—many patients have access to records that can be examined when cancer is diagnosed. In addition, radiologists are among the most highly sued doctors, and failure to accurately diagnose breast cancer, or a delay in diagnosis, are two of the most common causes of medical litigation.
Although the need for such studies seems high, little research examining radiologists’ willingness to disclose mammography-related errors has been conducted. This study used a survey tool sent to 364 radiologists at seven Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium sites. The survey included a vignette describing a scenario in which an error was made that delayed a patient’s breast cancer diagnosis, due to a comparison screening mammogram being placed in the wrong order so that a patient’s calcifications were misread as getting smaller rather than larger. Radiologists were asked how likely they were to disclose the error; what information they would share; and about their attitudes and experiences with malpractice.
The authors conclude that strategies must be developed and implemented to encourage radiologists to communicate errors to patients. Although this study had several limitations, the authors’ work in other clinical areas looking at physician willingness to disclose errors, showed a similar range of results.