Medical malpractice is an issue with radiation overdoses in two situations:
- Overuse of CT scans and x-rays when diagnosing an injury or disease. Over time this can cause cancer.
- Excessive radiation during cancer treatment – radiation therapy. This injury is typically a radiation “burn” that destroys tissue.
However, bringing a malpractice lawsuit for excessive use of diagnostic x-ray use is more difficult, because the injury doesn’t manifest itself for many years, and then the issue would be whether the patient might have come down with cancer anyway.
But malpractice suits for overdosing in radiation therapy can be easier to prove since the injury is obvious within days or weeks of the overdose. The complexity there is in proving who is responsible for the overdose. The possibilities include:
- The maker of the radiation equipment hardware.
- The software company that programmed the amount of radiation that the device delivers.
- The hospital technician who runs the machine and actually delivers the radiation.
- The hospital workers, called medical physicists, who make sure the radiation machines are properly calibrated to deliver correct doses of radiation.
- The radiation oncologist, a physician, who decides how much radiation to give or who, in some instances, actually delivers the radiation in the form of small pellets that are surgically implanted in the patient.
A series of articles in the New York Times in 2010 and 2011 exposed many sloppy and dangerous practices in the radiation therapy industry. We have documented many of those in our own patient safety blog. Many of these bad practices, when they cause harm to a patient, justify a medical malpractice lawsuit.
- Poor technique in implanting brachytherapy radiation pellets in prostate cancer patients. An oncologist at the VA Hospital in Philadelphia was sanctioned for mistreating nearly 100 veterans.
- Malpractice with stereotactic radiosurgery, with linear accelerators, which deliver powerful beams of radiation that are supposed to be finely targeted but often aren’t aimed properly.
- Unacceptable variations in doses delivered by Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy, or I.M.R.T., a common form of machine-generated radiation.
Make sure that the radiation therapy center treating you has significant experience, in years not months, with the specific machine being used on you. Too often, hospital administrators buy a fancy new machine, advertise it heavily in glossy brochures, but don’t take the time to make sure the machine is properly calibrated and that the medical physicists who operate the machine are fully trained. Read more…
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