Can I File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit for an Ultrasound Error?

Posted on

Since the 1950s, the ultrasound has been a vital diagnostic tool that physicians, obstetricians, gynecologists, and other health care providers use to identify and diagnose a range of health complications that can arise during pregnancy. The ultrasound generates images of the developing fetus, as well as the uterus, the amniotic sac, the ovaries, and the placenta, allowing the health care provider to monitor the health of the expectant mother and the baby. Ultrasounds are non-invasive and pose little to no risk to the pregnant woman or the fetus. However, if a mistake is made during the ultrasound examination, or the health care provider responsible for examining and interpreting the images failed to diagnose a serious health complication, it can have devastating consequences, including undiagnosed genetic abnormalities and other fetal and maternal problems. A skilled medical malpractice lawyer will advocate for victims of ultrasound errors and seek the financial compensation they deserve.

Is Prenatal Ultrasound Testing Safe?

Ultrasounds use high-frequency sound waves to produce images that are known as sonograms. The sonograms provide a visual picture of body cavities, organs, and other internal structures, including the developing fetus in pregnant women. It is a critical diagnostic tool that is efficient, cost-effective, and non-invasive. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), there is no evidence that suggests that the ultrasound poses any danger to the fetus or the pregnant woman. However, ACOG discourages unnecessary ultrasounds if a negative biological effect is identified in the future.

Why are Ultrasounds Used During Pregnancy?

Ultrasounds are an important part of a woman’s prenatal care. Although the number of ultrasounds a woman will have depends on a range of circumstances, most women will only need two ultrasound scans during pregnancy. The first ultrasound is usually performed at six to nine weeks to confirm the due date. It is during this ultrasound that the expectant parents can hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time. The first ultrasound will also rule out an ectopic pregnancy, which can cause a range of health complications if it is undiagnosed, including heavy bleeding, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, low blood pressure, and feeling faint as a result of blood loss.

The second ultrasound is done at 18 to 22 weeks, at which time the sex of the baby is confirmed. In addition, the scan will ensure that the baby’s anatomy is developing as it should, and that the size of the mother’s abdomen is consistent with her gestation. If the mother develops gestational diabetes or hypertension, starts spotting at any point, or the initial ultrasounds reveal any problems, additional ultrasounds will be warranted. Women who are carrying multiple babies will likely have frequent ultrasounds in order to monitor the growth of each of the fetuses.

What are Some of the Most Common Ultrasound Mistakes?

Ultrasounds are one of the most valuable tools that obstetricians-gynecologists use to monitor and evaluate a pregnancy and identify potential problems. Whether the ultrasound equipment was not properly maintained, the ultrasound technician was not adequately trained, or the radiologist misread or misinterpreted the images, this may be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. The following are common ultrasound mistakes that are considered negligent:

  • Poor imaging: If the ultrasound image is of poor quality, the radiologist or other health care provider evaluating the image may not be able to detect a serious health complication affecting the mother or the fetus. Issues related to poor imaging often stem from the following:
    – Lack of sufficient training in sonography
    – Medical professional responsible for studying the images fails to thoroughly examine them, or proceeds with examining low-quality images
    – Lack of adequate supervision of a sonographer
    – The equipment not properly maintained
  • Inadequate training: Sonographers are the technicians who perform the ultrasound scan. They must go through extensive training, testing, and certification to be able to carry out the scan and acquire the appropriate images. Sonographers who are employed in a hospital-based setting must be certified, or eligible for certification, by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies or the American National Standards Institute, International Organization for Standardization. In the past, sonographers did not require any formal training and could essentially learn how to perform an ultrasound on the job. Sonographers now require much more formal and rigorous training.
  • Inadequate images or incomplete studies: If an ultrasound does not provide a complete visual image, there is a greater chance that the medical professional reviewing the scan will make an incorrect diagnosis or fail to make an accurate diagnosis. The American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM) and ACOG have established guidelines that must be followed in order to enhance the quality of the ultrasound studies. For example, a standard obstetric ultrasound involves a complete visual image of the anatomy of the fetus, including a thorough examination of the cardiac outflow tracts. If the sonographer performs a limited ultrasound, this does not meet the requirements of a complete obstetrical ultrasound. More importantly, it could increase the risk of missing a potentially life-threatening fetal abnormality.
  • Inadequate supervision: Lack of supervision can increase the risk of ultrasound errors. There are three types of supervision, including the following:
    General supervision: The physician is not required to be present during the ultrasound, but he or she is responsible for training the non-physician personnel and ensuring that the equipment is properly maintained. This is the standard to obstetric-gynecologic ultrasounds, with the exception of percutaneous umbilical blood sampling, chorionic villus sampling, amniocentesis, and sonohysterography-sonosalpingography, which require personal supervision.
    Direct supervision: The physician must be present and available to provide assistance and direction if needed. However, he or she is not required to be in the room during the ultrasound procedure.
    Personal supervision: The physician must be in the room while the ultrasound is performed.
  • Poor maintenance: For the sonographer to capture accurate and targeted images, the equipment must be well maintained. If the medical practice does not use contemporary equipment and ensure that it is properly maintained, it may result in poor imaging and increase the likelihood of substandard care.

What Types of Errors are Commonly Found in Liability Claims?

The following are the most common liability claims that are made against physicians in ultrasound malpractice cases:

  • Perception errors: This occurs when an irregularity is missed during the original study but is detected in retrospect. These can be difficult to defend. If heard by a jury, approximately 80 percent of these claims will not be successful. An example is if the interpreting physician fails to identify a fetal anomaly on the ultrasound, and the baby is born with severe abnormalities, the mother may have had the option of terminating the pregnancy.
  • Interpretation errors: These errors occur when an irregularity is identified, but it is misinterpreted or misclassified. For example, if a malignant lesion is interpreted as benign, the condition can worsen and even become life-threatening. Best practices require a differential diagnosis and follow-up imaging that includes alternate imaging options and other means of diagnosis.
  • Failure to suggest the next appropriate procedure: The sonographer is responsible for recommending next steps based on the finding observed on the imaging. For example, if the ultrasound reveals an ectopic pregnancy, the sonographer should recommend serial human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) levels with a repeat ultrasound. A failure to do this could cause the ectopic pregnancy to continue, increasing the risk of bleeding, vomiting, and other serious health complications.

Who is Liable for Ultrasound Errors?

A trained sonographer is responsible for performing ultrasound tests, whereas a radiologist or the treating physician interprets the images. Based on the images, the doctor will determine whether there are any health concerns that need to be addressed. If the medical professional responsible for performing the ultrasound or interpreting the results fails to carry out his or her responsibilities, the patient may be able to seek compensation by pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit. In order to have a successful claim, the patient must be able to prove that the injury or health complication was the result of the health care provider’s failure to provide the same level of care that another health care provider in the same specialty would have provided under similar circumstances. A skilled and experienced medical malpractice lawyer will closely review the patient’s case and recommend the best legal course of action.

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Seek Justice for Victims of Ultrasound Errors

If you or a loved one was injured, or your health has been compromised in some way as a result of an ultrasound error, you are urged to contact the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton as soon as possible. We will thoroughly review your medical records and work closely with you to determine whether the error was caused by the sonographer, the radiologist, or another health care professional responsible for your care. Our dedicated legal team will thoroughly explain the claims process and secure the maximum financial compensation you deserve. We will not stop fighting for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.