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Missed X-ray Report Blamed In Mother’s Death

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A radiologist’s report in February 2010 of a suspicious lung nodule on a chest X-ray somehow wasn’t acted on—and may not even have been read.

According to a series of stories in the Daily News of New York, an emergency department resident at Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn told the patient, Lavern Wilkinson, that she was OK and sent her home two hours before the radiology report was even completed.

She wasn’t OK. A chronic cough turned into wheezing and shortness of breath. In May 2012, new scans found that the nodule was cancerous and had grown. Wilkinson had Stage 4 lung cancer that had spread to her other lung as well as to her liver, spine, and brain. She was told she might live six months to a year. On March 7, 2013, she died. She was 41 and left a 15-year-old daughter, Micalia, who, the News said, is autistic and retarded and requires special care.

Shortly before her death, Wilkinson accepted a $625,000 settlement from the hospital. She had consulted lawyers about suing. But New York state law requires that a medical malpractice suit against a municipal hospital, such as Kings County, must be filed within 15 months of the date of the medical error. Wilkinson didn’t even learn about the missed radiology report until more than two years after her X-ray.

How the report got overlooked is not clear. The News reported in January that the state health department was investigating.

The newspaper did find a lawyer who blamed the radiologist. Michael Schottland, a New Jersey attorney who first reviewed Wilkinson’s case, told the News:

If the radiologist had just taken 15 or 20 seconds out of his life to pick up the phone and alert her or her doctors or somebody to say, ‘Hey, I saw something serious on the X-ray,’ that would have made the difference between her life and death.

However, the radiology report, part of which the News reproduced, says, “Right middle lobe nodule. Suggest follow up study in three months. If clinical concern warrants, a CT scan of the chest is suggested.” One would think a radiologist would reasonably expect that wording to catch the eye of the attending physician—or someone.

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Admit your mistakes, a Canadian emergency physician tells his fellow doctors. Somehow, though, the subject of lawsuits gets only one brief mention. To learn more, see our Facebook page.

Related seminar: Thoracic Imaging

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