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Teleradiology Adds Another Element of Complexity to Medical Care

Guy DiMartino Oct. 31, 2014

We are definitely in the computer age. Medical care is being impacted by the speed and power of computers as well as being able to work in the cloud from virtually anywhere in the world. The American College of Radiology defines teleradiology as the electronic transmission of radiologic images from one location to another for the purpose of consultation.

Indiana has a number of rural areas with hospitals serving these areas. Because of economic constraints, these hospitals cannot have full time radiologists on the premises 24/7. If you received medical care and diagnostic imaging (x-ray, computerized tomography “CT”, or magnetic resonance imaging “MRI”) during off hours, it is likely that the diagnostic imaging study was reviewed by radiologist through teleradiology. Some hospitals have large enough groups where there is a radiologist on call – who will review the study over the internet from their home. Other hospitals just outsource this service to teleradiology groups. So, an x-ray or CT scan being taken in the middle of the night in Marshall County, Indiana could be read by a radiologist in Indian or Hong Kong or California.


Teleradiology can improve care by allowing access to specialists all hours of the day. Most patients would rather have a radiologist review their studies as opposed to an emergency room physician or a nurse practitioner.


According to MSNBC a self-investigation of teleradiology found that the procedure can open the door to confusion, errors and misrepresentation. Years ago the ER doc and the radiologist would sit in front of a light box and discuss the patient's clinical presentation in order to make sense of the diagnostic imaging studies. Now, these studies are reviewed in a vacuum with little or no clinical data being relayed to the radiologist. With shuffling reporting between strangers who have had no contact with the patient, crucial information can get lost.

The MSNBC article reported a Virginia case last year where an injured patient died after a teleradiologist in a neighboring city misread an esophageal tear on a CT scan. The radiologist was never told the history that the patient developed chest pain after a piece of food got caught in his throat.

As time goes on medicine becomes more and more complex and there are multiple layers of healthcare practitioners who may be involved in a patient's care. If something goes wrong, it is sometimes difficult to find all the players involved in the patient's care. Radiologic mis-interpretation is a relatively common type of medical malpractice case. Now with the increased use of teleradiology – who is really reading the patient's studies?

Indiana medical malpractice law is complex. If you have any questions about medical negligence or misdiagnosis involving diagnostic imaging, call our Northwest Indiana medical malpractice attorney at (219) 874-4878.