You might be surprised to learn that there are several hospitals in New Mexico that do not actually have a radiology department, or even a single radiologist under their roof. This is an increasingly-common practice in New Mexico hospitals called “teleradiology”. This is a cost-saving measure that is more often seen in smaller New Mexico hospitals, who have decided it is cheaper to pay for their radiologists to be off-site. In our experience, this is an invitation for medical malpractice to occur.
The way teleradiology is supposed to work is like this: An x-ray or other image is taken of you at your local hospital. It is then electronically sent over the internet to the computer of a big radiology group, many hundreds of miles away. (This radiology group would have a contract with your local hospital.) The idea is that your imaging is supposed to be quickly sent to one of their radiologists, and then interpreted by them. We have seen several instances where the image interpretation actually was done on the physicians’ home computer, believe it or not. A report of your study is then to be created by this far-away radiologist. This report is then uploaded on their computer, and the ordering physician at your local hospital is supposed to be sent a copy of the report that was issued by the far-away radiologist. A paper copy is supposed to be printed out in your local clinic or hospital and then put in your chart. In this very complicated chain of events, everything has to go right, or miscommunication and tragic consequences can occur.
Another very important failure can happen when teleradiology is used. This second type of failure has actually caused the death of our clients. Radiologists have strict standards, throughout the nation, regarding the communication of “critical findings” to your local doctor. If the far-away radiologist sees something on your image that could seriously impact your health, he is supposed to directly call your local physician who ordered your study, to let him or her know this important information. Unfortunately, when hundreds or thousands of miles separate your doctor and your radiologist, phone numbers are not known or not current, or the physician can’t be found, or he has the day off, or he is seeing patients, etc., this critical communication sometimes fails to happen.
As we hope you can see, it is very easy for mistakes to occur with teleradiology. The only way you can find out if this is your doctor’s or hospital’s arrangement to have your radiology studies interpreted, is to ask. You might be surprised at the answer.